Have you ever listened to a really great presenter and perhaps thought to yourself – ‘I wish I could present like that.’ The fact is, what you see and hear is only a fraction. It’s a bit like an iceberg where as much as 7/8ths is below the surface. Undoubtedly the great presenter has put loads of time and effort into planning and preparation. That’s the key to giving a truly successful presentation. In this post I will outline how you can plan and prepare for your next presentation. It’s all about asking the right questions……

Questions and Answers signpost

So let’s consider the three most important questions: WHO? WHAT? HOW?
WHO is your audience?
Whether you are communicating with one person or with a group, the more you can find out about your audience the better, and the greater chance you have of capturing and retaining their interest.


  • What do they know about the subject?
  • Are they familiar with jargon or technical terms?
  • Do they have strong opinions on the subject?
  • What’s in their minds? What do they want or expect to hear?
  • How many of them will be there?
  • Are they there willingly, or grudgingly?
  • How long will they be prepared to listen?
  • What questions are they likely to ask? Do they have any specific needs or problems?


WHAT do you want to achieve?

You may feel that your main objective is to survive the presentation! But it’s not about you. It’s about what you want to happen as a result of your presentation e.g. people will have a new understanding; they will be convinced to take a particular course of action; they will feel satisfied or reassured.
Once you are clear about what you want to achieve, you will be able to:


  • Plan your content appropriately, leaving out any unnecessary or irrelevant details.
  • Pitch content at the right level for your audience.
  • Make decisions about the best approach to take.


HOW will you give your presentation?

Once you have found out as much you can about your audience and you are clear about what you want to achieve, it’s then time to consider how you will go about the actual presentation. Again there are lots of questions.

  • How long should the presentation last?
  • How formal should it be?
  • Should you go for audience participation or simply deliver your content?
  • What will the room layout be like? Are there any particular constraints? Can you change it?
  • Is it best to sit or stand? Or perhaps a combination of both?
  • Should you use handouts? If so, is it best to distribute them at the start of the presentation or at the end?
  • Will you take questions as you go along? Or leave them until the end?
  • What type of visual aids will you use? What would help most in achieving your purpose? What would appeal most to your audience?

Some Useful Tips

There are no definitive answers to some of these questions. To some extent it depends on your skills and confidence as a presenter, whether you can ‘think on your feet’ easily or whether you are put off by interruptions from the audience.

As a general rule, if you are delivering a very short presentation or if the audience is large, then it’s best to restrict questions until an allocated ‘question time’ at the end of your presentation. You should mention this in your introduction so as to avoid unwanted interruptions. If the timescale is longer, say more than 15 minutes, and you want to create a more informal atmosphere, then you may wish to take questions as you go along. But do bear in mind that you need to have good facilitation skills – and it’s not half as easy as it looks. You run the risk of getting side-tracked or having some audience members behaving in ways you really wish they wouldn’t!

It’s usually best to distribute handouts at the end of your presentation, unless they are essential to understanding part of your message. If you give them out at the start, then there’s a risk you will divide the attention of your audience or lose them altogether – something you will want to avoid at all costs.

In future posts I will be giving tips on how to prepare and structure a successful presentation.

Please contact me if you would like to find out about training courses or coaching on Presentation Skills.

Click here to view a sample Presentation Skills training programme.