Rock your next presentation: don’t skip these critical offline steps

Mike Taylor
Mike Taylor // February 28, 2017

What does your presentation process look like? Far too many people jump directly into PowerPoint and just start spraying bullet points all over the place.

…but some of the most important steps you can take to be a successful presenter should happen before you do any work on your slides. Here are some tips I’ve put together after years of designing presentations.

Get to know your audience

The first step: thoughtful consideration. Who will be attending?

Learn as much as you can about your audience. This will give you insight and context to focus your message, tailor your design and customize your delivery for a rock star presentation.

If you need help getting started, check out these considerations from Nancy Duarte’s book, Resonate. See how many of these questions you can answer about your audience:

Always consider who you will be speaking to, even if you have a presentation that you give frequently.

For example:

How would you present retirement planning to millennials?

How would you present retirement planning to mid-career professionals?

A thoughtful presenter would share knowledge on this topic differently for these two audiences.

Of course, you’ll rarely, if ever, know everything there is to know about an audience. Don’t sweat it – just learn as much as you can. Any insights you glean will help you align with your audience and make your message resonate more powerfully.

“If you want me to give you a two-hour presentation, I am ready today. If you want only a five-minute speech, it will take me two weeks to prepare.”

– Mark Twain

Pare down your material

The dreaded data dump: no one wants to sit through a presentation that gives them information overload (and a headache). Even the greatest speakers armed with stunningly beautiful slides will fall short if their audience doesn’t understand the message they are trying to convey…

Overloading your audience with too much information leads to LESS understanding – not more!

Your goal is for people to remember a key message and act on it. When presenters cram too much information into the heads of their audience, the result is often a colossal waste of time for audience and presenter. How can anyone do what you want, if they don’t remember what it is?

The challenge is significant. According to a study by Dr. Carmen Simon, a typical audience forgets up to 90 percent of what you tell them. And, as if that’s not bad enough, the 10 percent that one person remembers is a different 10 percent from what the next guy does.

Some people think our brains work like video recorders – they’re wrong. Just because you say something doesn’t mean people will remember it – not even close! To give a memorable presentation, think about how memory works.

Your audience should walk away able to answer these two questions:

  • What three points do you want them to remember?
  • What do you want them to do?

If people walk out of your presentation with the right answers to these questions, you’re well on your way to success.

One of my favorite ways to organize these main points and supporting details is Cliff Atkinson’s super helpful Beyond Bullet Points story template.

Unlike PowerPoint, this template is based on brain science that will help get your message through and move your audience to action (and help you cut out any extraneous content):

Seriously: don’t skip the pre-work

Are you thinking about skipping these steps? Don’t. It may be tempting to jump right into slide building, but you’ll create a stronger message if you think through audience and content beforehand.

I’ve shared two resources that help me get the pre-work done, but there are a lot out there. How do you manage the “before” steps in your presentation process? Are there other tools you use?

I’d love to hear your questions and comments.