Presentation Basics


This weekend, I attended a leadership training for a volunteer organization.  When asked quite a few times about what I do for a living, many people expressed interest in attending my classes to learn more about public speaking and presentation.  To help my friends and fellow volunteers be stronger presenters, I wanted to focus on the four presentation basics.

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Presentation Basic #1: Learn how to properly brainstorm, prepare, and analyze your audience.  Most speakers eliminate this step, and it is their biggest mistake.  Think of this step as the foundation for your entire speech.  Without the proper foundation, your entire speech will crumble around you.

In slide:ology, Nancy Duarte suggests spending 36-90 hours developing a one-hour presentation. Duarte explains that one third of that time should be concentrated in the brainstorming, preparing, planning, and audience analyzing phase.

Chapter 5 of Speak Up!  An Illustrated Guide to Public Speaking by Douglas M. Fraleigh and Joseph S. Tuman concentrates on audience analysis.  Audience analysis is about learning as much as possible about your audience so that your presentation can meet their wants, desires, and needs.  Fraleigh and Tuman explain that proper audience analysis allows a presentation to resonate with audiences.  Audience analysis works on many levels, but failure to spend time analyzing an audience always means your presentation will fall flat.  Your audience will shut down because you are wasting their time, and, ultimately, disrespecting them with your terrible presentation.


To Do: Complete Duarte’s Audience Needs Questions before every presentation.  After developing thorough answers to each of these seven questions, only then begin developing potential speech topics through creative brainstorming.

To Read: slide:ology by Nancy Duarte; Chiara Ojeda’s article “Tweak Your Speech: Audience First”

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Presentation Basic #2: After properly brainstorming and analyzing your audience, concentrate on your message.  Build sticky content that will connect and engage audience members.  Messages that stick are the topic of Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made To Stick.  It’s a must-read for developing strong presentation content.

Chip and Dan Heath emphasize content that is simple (as opposed to overly complex); unexpected (grabbing the audience’s attention); concrete (as opposed to abstract and intangible); credible (so that the audience can believe in and trust the message); and emotional (utilizing any of the emotions on Plutchik’s wheel).  The last element the Heath brothers emphasize is storytelling.  You should include story in every presentation you give.

To Do: Andrew Dlugan of Six Minutes emphasizes the importance of ethos, pathos, and logos in a presentation’s content.  Familiarize yourself with these three presentation pillars and incorporate each into every speech you give from now on.  Aristotle definitely knew what he was talking about, as these three modes of persuasion are still with us and still work today… 2300 years later.

To Read: Made To Stick by Chip and Dan Heath; resonate by Nancy Duarte

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Concentrate on making the visual presentation match the message.  A visual presentation is not your speech written out in bullet points on a slideshow.  Your slideshow should be visual.  Learn the principles of effective visual design.  You’ve seen advertisements, watched commercials, and driven by billboards.  Effective visual design follows these very same principles.  The best way to learn the rule of glance media, the signal-to-noise ratio, and the picture superiority effect is to study “good” slides – effective slides.  Check out two demonstrations below which will teach you how to better your own visual presentations:

5 Rules for Creating Effective Visual Presentations:

Learn how to prevent “toxic slide syndrome” here:

To Do: Create effective slides that are truly visual.  Remove the text from your slides and put it in a handout.  Distribute that handout at the end of your presentation for people to take home.

To Read: Presentation Zen and Presentation Zen Design by Garr Reynolds

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Lastly, practice delivery until it is natural and authentic.  You should run through your speech many times (at least 3-5 times) to make sure your delivery will be successful.

TED Commandment #9 says, “Thou shalt not read thy speech” (Source).  Don’t write an entire speech from the first word to the last.  This creates robotic, canned, stale delivery.  Instead, develop a speech outline.  Your outline will keep you on track when presenting but will ensure your delivery is from the heart.

To Do: Watch TED Talks to research the effective delivery techniques of master presenters.  Start with Benjamin Zander and Sir Ken Robinson.  Record yourself presenting and watch the playback.  Present in front of a mirror.  Present in front of family and friends before the big speech day.

To Read: The Naked Presenter by Garr Reynolds


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