Step 1: Who is my audience and how can I add value to them?

The first step is to stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about your audience. Since most people have a fear of public speaking, it’s all too easy to get caught up in our own insecurities. However, your presentation is much more likely to fail if you spend all your time thinking about “What am I going to say?” rather than planning it from your audience’s perspective. 

Typically, we can get caught up in thinking about ourselves during a presentation. We ask questions like, “Am I being clear? Did I say “um” too much? Am I boring them?” Instead, before you plan anything or make any Powerpoint slides, spend your time thinking about your audience and how you can add value to them. 

If you can clearly answer these questions, it’s time to move to step 2: 

  • What does my audience care about?
  • What are they worried about?
  • What do they already know?
  • What do they have to gain from listening to me?
  • What do I want them to think about me and my topic after my presentation?
  • What do I want them to do after my presentation? 

Once you are fully into the mindset of thinking about your audience, you’re ready to move on – but don’t start writing yet. 

Step 2: What kind of presentation am I giving?

Now that you have a really clear idea of your audience and how you can benefit them, you can start planning your presentation. But wait! Don’t start writing just yet. Before you do that, you should step back and think about what type of presentation best serves your goal from step 1.

 In my mind, there are a few basic categories of presentations:

1. Informative

You are an expert, and you’re providing information to your audience. The goal of this presentation could be updating them, educating them, or just sharing transparency into something that is going on and why. 

A good example of this type of presentation is an information session hosted by a school or company. They are purely informing their audience because they have all the information about the topic. In a work setting, this may be something like your IT department explaining a new technology change and walking the audience through why the change is happening and what it means to them. 

2. Interactive

In an interactive session, you are balancing sharing information with gaining input and insight from others. This is a good format to go with if your audience are your peers or if they have some expertise in the topic as well. 

An example of this type of session is a training workshop. When I conduct this type of presentation, I’m usually introducing concepts, frameworks, and research that my audience has not seen before. However, they are not total novices in the topic. So in an interactive approach, I’d present the content in an information-delivery style and then facilitate some exercises or discussion to allow each participant to apply the information to their own situations. 

3. Influencing 

Influencing is essentially a nice way of selling. You could be selling yourself (an interview), an idea (a pitch), or a decision (approval meeting). Your goal in this type of meeting is usually pretty fixed: To get a “yes” from your audience. Here’s where you really want to focus on step 1 to make sure you’re crafting your pitch to align with what your audience cares about. 

4. Pure facilitation

If you’re not an expert or you’re explicitly trying to solicit other opinions, a pure facilitation style might be right. In this model, you usually have an agreed-upon agenda and you’re making sure that everyone is flowing through the information in an orderly and efficient process. 

An example of this type of presentation might include facilitating a brainstorming meeting or making sure that a board meeting runs smoothly. 

Your desired outcome here is making sure that the agenda is accomplished and power dynamics don’t take over the room. 

I’m sure there are more types out there, but these are the ones I see most frequently. 

Step 3:  Keep it simple and say what you want to say

I always ask myself, “What’s the shortest way I can say what I want to say?” and “If my audience leaves with one thought, what do I want it to be?” Then I build my presentation around these ideas. 

One of the biggest tendencies we have when presenting is to include too much information because it’s tempting to overdo it when you are worried about making your point and providing your credibility. If you go back to step 1 – and you have very concrete thing you want your audience to take away from your presentation –  you should be able to narrow down your message. 

The reality is that even the best audiences are still only kind of paying attention to you. Harsh reality, but I believe it to be true. Therefore, it’s important to make your points clear, concise, and repetitive. If you feel like you’re being repetitive, that’s probably a good sign that you’re saying it enough times for your audience to absorb it. This is especially true if you’re in presentation type 1 (informational) or 4 (influencing). Anytime you’re presenting new information to an audience it will take some repetition for it to be absorbed. 

Step 4: Make it interesting by using stories. 

There is a lot of research that stories make for more compelling presentations. Think about the difference between reading a novel and a textbook—which would you choose? The same applies to most kinds of presentations. Giving dynamic examples, stories, case studies, and personal experiences will help your audience connect with you but they also make the content feel more tangible and real. 

You don’t need to rehearse your story or memorize it, but know where you are going to add examples and anecdotes to your presentation to keep it interesting and tangible.