Speakers Toolkit: How to give great speeches & presentations

Speakers Toolkit: How to give great speeches & presentations

Being nervous when you have to give a presentation is normal—even experienced speakers break a sweat. Two things will help calm those butterflies:

  1. Remembering that this is not about you. Your content is the star; you’re simply delivering it.
  2. Preparation, which boosts your confidence. The 9 Steps to Successful Speeches & Presentations will help you prepare and deliver successful presentations. And the Speaking & Presenting Tips will help your natural skills and expertise shine.


9 Steps to Successful Speeches & Presentations

1. Define Your Purpose. Why are you making this presentation? (To educate, inspire, advertise…?)

2. Define your Desires. What do you want to happen as a result of this presentation? What do you want your audience to know or experience? How will you know you succeeded?

3. Know Your Audience. How many people will be in the audience? Who are they? (Be specific!)

  • What is your audience’s age, gender, education, work, interests, motivations and experience?
  • How fluent are they? What technical language or jargon do they understand?
  • Do they like lots of visuals, or just listening? Do they want to participate?
  • How important is your presentation to them—are they motivated to attend, understand and participate? Do they want to be here or is this mandatory?
  • What do they want to know, need to know, already know?

4. Understand the Context. How does your presentation fit into your audience’s day?

  • Is this a lecture, workshop, speech…? Formal or informal?
  • How much time do you have?
  • Is your audience at work or play? On a retreat?
  • Do they know each other?
  • How much time do you have and at what part of the day? Will your audience be alert and motivated or tired and hungry?
  • Is this part of a larger event? What’s happening before and after your session?
  • Why were you asked to present? Do they specifically want you, your company/department, or just someone who can present the content?
  • What are the organizers’ expectations of you & your content?

5. Gather your Content. Before you start, clarify. Get clear on exactly what you want to include.

  • How far back do you need to start? (What does they audience already know?)
  • What other content do you need? (Images, maps, video, audio, your contact information)
  • Did you include too much? Is there anything that can be cut? Anecdotes are great—to a point. They should serve to illustrate a point or move the presentation along. Keep them brief, professional and to a minimum. Beware of TMI (too much information). Remember, this presentation is not about you.
  • Be sure the overall tone is positive—what to do rather than what not to do.
  • Do you need to create handouts? (How many copies; who’s printing them?) Can they be posted online instead?
  • If you are including online content, either make a localized version (ie download it) or have an alternative in case of failure.
  • Will you ask the audience to evaluate the presentation? If so, what format will you use? (Informal comments, written evaluations, online form)
  • Promotion—do you need to promote this event? If so what’s your plan?

6. Structure Your Content. Outline your presentation. Present ideas one at a time, in a clear, logical order. Some ways to present information are:

  • Chronological order
  • Important points first
  • General to specific
  • What is already known to new information

As you introduce each point tell the audience you’re introducing a new point. Summarize each point, and at the end of the presentation, summarize the key points. Your visuals should reinforce this structure.

Now think about time. How long will each point take? What about the introduction and conclusion? Will you include time for feedback or questions? If yes how long and what format will you use? (Question & answer time, informal conversations after the presentation, social media, discussion forum…)

7. Prepare Yourself. Your reputation is affected every time you present—be sure to make yourself look good.

  • Know yourself: are you comfortable speaking publicly? It’s ok and normal to be nervous, but don’t overcompensate. Trust yourself and your knowledge.
  • Are you prepared and familiar with the content? You should be able to speak naturally, with minimal reference to your notes. No reading from a script!
  • Practice & time your presentation. Now practice it again. For a shocking dose of reality, record yourself. How many times did you say “um” “like” or “you know”? How many times did you touch your face, play with your hair and clothes, or stand on one leg?
  • Pre-visualize. Imagine yourself presenting successfully. See yourself speaking, your voice clear and confident. Visualize the audience clapping and thanking you. Plan your celebration.
  • Plan the time—how long for introductions, presentation, activities, feedback & questions? Is there a break? (Take a break every 60-90 minutes or your audience will drift.) Never go over time. Ever. It’s your job to deliver the expected content in the allotted time. Holding your audience hostage will cause them to hate you. If things are running long, make yourself available to continue the conversation afterwards. Pause to let those who need to leave, and then carry on.
  • Do you have/need water, coffee, snacks, pads, sweater, sweat shields, safety pins?
  • Are you wearing comfortable, professional clothes? Do you have stains, holes, patches, or dropping hems? Do your clothes fit properly? Do they support your reputation?

8. Find Out About The Venue. If you arrive with time to spare and the cables you need, you’ll be calmer and better able to focus on your presentation.

  • Do you have the exact location & address of the venue, clear driving or transit directions, and reliable estimate of how long it will take to get there? How much ahead of time do you plan to arrive?
  • How much will it cost to get there? (transit fares, tolls)
  • What is the parking situation: availability, fees, time restrictions?
  • What door do you go in? Will it be unlocked?
  • Will the presentation room be unlocked? If not, where is the person who will open it? Will they be expecting you?
  • Room size & layout: will you need a mic? What are the sightlines & acoustics?
  • Physical Atmosphere: will you need to arrange the furniture, whiteboards etc? Do you control the air conditioning or windows? Are there light-blocking curtains to improve the visibility of screens & monitors? Are there enough chairs?
  • Are electrical & internet connections available? Are there any firewalls or other restrictions—will you be able to access all the sites you expect?
  • Computers: Mac or PC? Do they have the software you need? Can you connect your own laptop/mobile device?
  • Other Hardware (projector, screen, mic, etc) Do you know where they are & how to work them? Where are their remote controls? Will you have technical support available?
  • Cables: Do you have/need connector and power cables for your USB, projector, laptop, etc?
  • What’s your backup plan if electronics or the internet connection fail? (Print, speech, interpretive dance…)
  • Analog Tools: will you need a blackboard or whiteboard, markers & eraser, flip charts, tape?
  • Are other events happening at same time & location? (Will there be noise, distractions, interruptions, attendees migrating to/from other events?)
  • Is your audience familiar with the venue? (If not, they might be late, or need to know about parking restrictions and the locations of bathrooms, coffee, etc. If it’s a hard-to-find location they may be grumpy or distracted when they arrive.)

9. Survive the Actual Presentation

  • Can everybody hear/see you? You don’t have to ask, but do observe the audience.
  • Speak a little slower than normal. Enunciate. (Is any of your audience reading lips?) Allow space between words and sentences (But. You don’t. Have to speak. Like. Captain Kirk.)
  • If you’re not sure how to start, introduce yourself, thank whoever invited you, and give information about yourself or your company, if appropriate. Keep this part short—tell just enough to justify your expertise, then move on to the presentation.
  • In some situations you will want the audience to introduce themselves and mention what they hope to get out of the session. You’ll have to manage this diplomatically. Try something like this: “Please tell us your name and, in 2 to 3 sentences, what you hope to get out of this session.” After each person speaks, offer a simple “thanks” and move on. If a response is too long, interrupt and say something like, “Unfortunately we have to keep moving, but maybe we can continue this offline.”
  • Keep an eye on the time, but don’t check your watch (it makes you seem bored; use a small clock or the one on your computer).
  • After the presentation and question & answer session, make any announcements regarding evaluation forms, handouts or reference materials.
  • At the very end, thank your audience for their time and attention. Once you do so, they will begin to leave, so make this the last item in your presentation.
  • Expect to stick around for a while for those who wish to speak with you personally.

Speaking & Presenting Tips

  • It’s normal to be nervous; even experienced speakers get a little sweaty before they present. Remember that you will notice flaws that your audience doesn’t.
  • Don’t apologize for being nervous. Or for anything—it just draws attention to shortcomings.
  • Don’t talk to your slides; talk to the audience.
  • Similarly, glance at your notes; don’t read them. They are only to keep you on track and remind you of the major points. Make the print large enough to read at a glance.
  • Use common words and short, active sentences. Speak like you usually do in conversation.
  • No idiom, slang, jargon, acronyms or abbreviations unless you are sure they are understood. If you do use them, write out the definitions or full terms (if you have a board) or include them in your visual presentation.
  • Make yourself a little bigger. Stand tall.
  • Move around but slowly.
  • Watch your body language, including face & mouth.
  • Use gestures for emphasis but don’t fidget. Keep hands away from your body, face, hair and glasses. This is not the time to adjust your zipper. Hands in pockets are ok for a moment, but don’t start digging.
  • Make eye contact or look at faces as you speak.
  • Where possible, watch your audience’s body language for interest and engagement. Be prepared to adjust your presentation if they look bored or confused.
  • Realize that your audience wants you to succeed. Audiences want you to be interesting, stimulating, informative and entertaining. They’re rooting for you. (Except in Australia, where they are cheering for you.)

Be yourself, be brief, and be clear. You’ll do fine.


Lucinda Atwood is a master teacher and coach with over twenty years of experience. She works with emerging and established leaders to develop their strengths, skills and the confidence to lead in alignment with their values. Through inspiration, coaching and practical exercises, Lucinda teaches her clients how to contribute fully and effectively while living their best lives.
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