prepare for a presentation with these three questions
Giving a presentation is a fantastic opportunity! Whether you’re a paid professional speaker, an executive addressing your colleagues, or simply someone whose been asked to make some remarks to group, getting to share your ideas/thoughts/message with others is a great opportunity to positively influence others. It’s a privilege to have people actually listen to what you have to say — and a responsibility to make sure you use their attention and time wisely. Here’s how to prepare for a presentation that honors that privilege and responsibility:
How to Prepare for a Presentation
Ask yourself these three questions:
- Why am I the absolutely right person to be speaking to this group?
- What are the audience’s biggest challenges and how can I help them address them?
- What should people know/think/feel/do as a result of participating in my session?
I’ve been speaking professionally for many years now and, while I still have a lot to learn and improve on, I’ve found it’s really helpful to ask myself these questions as I prepare for a presentation. I go through them before I create the content of my talk, and again after I’ve put together my presentation to make sure I’ve addressed the points, and then once more right before I go on stage as a last reminder of what’s important. These questions help keep me singularly focused on how I can be of most value to my audience.
In addition to doing prep calls with the client who booked you or the person who asked you to speak, I recommend you ask to do calls with a few participants so you can get their input as you think through the questions. These calls are usually extremely helpful and they also help establish some rapport with the audience if you acknowledge from the stage the people who helped you prepare.
Three Questions to Prepare for a Presentation
Let me unpack the three questions to prepare for a presentation.
1. Why am I the absolutely right person to be speaking to this group? In other words, what do you know that fits perfectly with what the audience wants or needs to know? Of course, not every speaker is a fit for every audience, so what is it that makes you uniquely qualified to be speaking to this group at this time?
There is usually a specific reason why I’ve been asked to speak to a group — people have read my books or other content or have seen me speak at other events and they want me to share some point(s) that resonated with them. You were selected for the opportunity before you for a specific reason as well. If that reason isn’t clear, ask about it directly — but remember that sometimes people don’t know what they don’t know, so you need to think deeply and critically about the unique insights you can bring to them.
2. What are the audience’s biggest challenges and how can I help them address them? Again, ask your client or contact person directly about the audience’s challenges, but also try to “listen between the lines” because sometimes people think they have one need when they really have another. Do desk research on the industry or company, perhaps even reach out to colleagues who may have insight into the business.
Then map your content to your audience’s challenges and fill in gaps with new research or insights so you’re clear on how you can reframe or break down their challenges, present solutions to their problems, and answer their questions.
3. What should people know/think/feel/do as a result of participating in my session? We’ve all sat through a presentation that we thought was entertaining or funny or inspiring but the next day we can’t remember anything about it. This question helps ensure that people don’t leave your session saying, “That was nice,” but not changing anything as a result of it.
Whether it’s just a subtle but significant shift in perceptions or an action to be taken or a decision to be made, there should always be at least one change that should happen as a result of your talk. You might try drawing before and after columns and writing down the changes — what do people know before your session and what do you want them to know afterward, what do they think before and after, etc. I usually very explicitly tell people at the end of my talk what changes I recommend they make — it’s usually a great way to summarize or synthesize your points. There’s no sense in leaving them guessing.
Preparation Is the Key to Success
Whether or not you use these specific questions, you do need to prepare diligently for a presentation. Sometimes people think they can just “wing it,” but it’s usually clear to your audience when you do. The best speakers make it look like they are speaking extemporaneously, but I can almost guarantee you they’ve done a lot of preparation.
Remember you have a terrific opportunity — you seize it and steward it well when ask yourself some probing questions as you prepare for a presentation.