Don’t you just hate those classmates or work colleagues who can get up in front of an audience and give an amazing presentation? They don’t sound rehearsed; they are relaxed; they have the audience totally engaged. They just have a stage presence and a delivery technique that makes us a bit jealous.

Here’s the thing: No one is born making speeches and presentations.

They develop these skills over time. Yes, some have personalities that seem to make it easier, but anyone can do this if s/he is willing to take the time to prepare and practice. An exceptional presentation is really a science and an art. The science is in the preparation; the art is in the delivery (and that comes from practice).

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If you want your next speech or presentation to get rave reviews, here are the steps you will take.

The Science – Preparation

by Jesse Desjardins - @jessedee

Preparation for a speech or presentation is a step-by-step process, and every step is critical if you are going to be a success.

The Topic

Chances are your topic will be chosen for you. The only exception would be if you were in a speech class and had the freedom to choose our own. You are asked by a business group, for example, to make a presentation on your startup; you are considered and “expert” in some area and are asked to speak at a conference; your broadcast journalism professor has decided that you must give an oral editorial presentation on a specific current event; or you are the best man in your friend’s wedding and must make a speech at the reception; and, of course, you may be asked to prepare a eulogy at the funeral of a friend or relative. All of these are typical kinds of speech/presentation topics that people may face in their lifetimes. And all will have different purposes.

The Purpose

Okay. You now have a topic. The next step is to identify the purpose. Are you supposed to inform, explain, entertain, persuade, motivate, or inspire? The purpose will determine the tone you take. Now, some of these can cross over. If, for example, your topic is pretty dry and your purpose is to inform or explain, you will want to find some ways to add some humor or human interest. Funeral eulogies are often serious; however, adding some entertaining stories about the person is expected, normal, and welcomed. More on this later.

Define Your Audience

This step is pretty important too. If you know the people who make up your audience, then you have an easier time of it. If there will be strangers or just acquaintances, you need to develop a typical persona of your audience. If you are speaking to a group of senior citizens about personal finance in retirement, your language and tone will be very different than speaking to a group of high schoolers about it. And if you are in neither group yourself, you have a bit of research to do, so the vocabulary is right.

Identify the Method

Is this presentation to be formal, informal or somewhere in between? A presentation to a group of “stiff” bankers will probably be quite formal; a sales presentation to a potential client will be less so; and a best man speech will be about as informal as it gets. Getting the right method in mind will help you decide on tone and style.

What’s the Length?

Before you start writing your speech, you have to know how long you will need to talk. This will determine how many points you can address on the topic. A good general rule is this:

  • 10-15 minutes: make 3 main points
  • 30 minutes: make 6 main points
  • 45 minutes: make 8 main points

Obviously, there will be variations. If you have to make 6 points and you only have 20 minutes, you have to pare down what you present about each point and leave out less important detail.

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If you have 45 minutes, and 3 major points to make, break those points down into sub-headings. If your presentation is on how to market online in this digital age, and you have 3 big strategies to cover, give an explanation of each strategy with examples and then provide actionable tips that they can use right away. Now, each of those 3 strategies has two parts.

Decide on Visuals or Media

Most presentations will fall flat without some visuals. Audiences love them and they remember more. PowerPoint slides used to be boring – not anymore. There are some great free PowerPoint templates to be found online, and you may be surprised at the great designs now available. Short videos can work well too, and these are easy to produce. Using multimedia will keep your audience engaged – use it.

Write the Presentation

“Writing” the presentation means different things. To seasoned presenter who knows his/her topic backwards and forwards, this means crafting an outline of the main points so nothing is left out. To the novice presenter, this may mean writing out the entire presentation and then reducing it to an outline or notes later on. This is a pretty good idea if the topic is not well known and research has to be done. Here are the steps – don’t skip any of them:

  • Do a little brainstorming to get all of your ideas on the topic in front of you
  • Combine and reduce those ideas into your main points
  • Decide how you can best present each point – examples, anecdotes, and visuals
  • Determine the order in which each point will be covered
  • Write the body of the presentation (or outline, if you know the topic well)
  • Make note of the visuals you will use as you write or outline.

The Introduction

Here’s the thing about introductions: If you have not captured your audience members within the first two sentences, it is unlikely that you will capture them at all. There are several ways to do this, but it is a “must.” You can begin with a story – people will sit up and listen to a story; you may begin with some really shocking facts or statistics – they will sit up and take notice if they are surprised.

Your introduction is the most important part of your presentation – take a lot of time to make it compelling, and your audience will be waiting for more.

The Conclusion

by Dan Benoni

Your conclusion go backs to your purpose. If your presentation has been an explanation, the conclusion should review the main points, with a visual aid to reinforce them; if your presentation was to motivate, ask or tell the audience what to do now – a call to action; if the presentation was to persuade, then repeat your major arguments forcefully.

The Art - Delivery

We’ve all seen great actors. What we may not realize is that they are salespeople of a sort. They are selling us on their roles. When you deliver a speech or presentation, you must be an actor and a salesperson too. For some, this is easy; for others, not so much. So here are some tips about bringing out the actor in you.

Practice

You cannot be a good actor unless you first know your lines. You may have the best presentation in the world, but it will fall flat if you don’t deliver it well. Part of that delivery is knowing it so well that you don’t have to focus on what you are saying anymore; you have to focus on how you are saying it.

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One of the best ways to improve your actor role is to give your presentation to friends who will listen. Ask them for honest feedback on their levels of engagement.

Find a Listener Who is a Great Presenter

If you have a friend or family member who always engages you with their stories and their arguments, this is the person you want to listen to your presentation and critique it. These are the people for whom capturing an audience is easy. They can give you pointers and suggestions that you will not get anywhere else. Ask for their help with your introduction.

Observe Outstanding Presenters

Some of the best presenters are church pastors who are able to capture their audiences every Sunday. You know the difference if you have been to different churches or watched them on TV. Some are really boring, and you get nothing. Others are dynamic. They give examples, tell stories, and even shock you. Watch them; copy their techniques, including facial expressions, arm movements and other body language.

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Some politicians are polished presenters. In this election season, you have plenty of them to watch. See if you can incorporate some of their techniques as you practice your own speech.

Some Final Tips

  1. Don’t skip any step in the process of your presentation preparation or delivery practice.
  2. Check the vocabulary you are using. It has to be right for you audience.
  3. Your presentation is not an essay or paper – unless you are a researcher presenting to a highly sophisticated audience, be informal. No one is going to check your pronoun-antecedent agreement or your verb tenses.
  4. Add humor that is appropriate for your audience. While humor is a great engagement tool, it has to be appropriate in tone and level of sophistication for your audience.
  5. Don’t use your slides to keep you organized. The slides are for your audience – they are to drive home points and to engage them. If you make those slides for yourself, you will fail at engaging them.
  6. Get rid of the jitters before you go on. Take some deep breaths and visualize yourself in a calm, peaceful place. Hydrate before you go on.

Remember this: You may not be a “natural” on stage. But your audience does not have to know this. If you follow these steps, you will “look” natural, and you will be able to have that audience in the “palm of your hand” – right where you want them.