to an Audience
Communicate Complex Ideas Successfully
By Kellie Fowler, Mind Tools Contributor, FowlerKel@aol.com
Speaking to an audience can be fun and exciting. However, lack
of preparation or not clearly defining the presentation’s
goals and its audience can make even the best-intended presentation
a complete disaster.
Preparation - The Key to Successful Speaking...
To ensure your presentation is effective, first determine your
objective. Ask yourself:
- Why am I giving the presentation?
- What do I want the audience to take away from the presentation?
Second, determine your audience. Their familiarity with the presentation
topic will determine the level at which you present your speech.
How to Structure Your Presentation
Once you have determined your presentation’s objective and
overall goal, as well as the audience, it’s time to structure
your presentation. You will need to start this process by determining
the length of the presentation.
Take the allotted time and break it into smaller segments, with
each segment tackling a specific task (all of which reflect the
overall objective of the presentation). For example, the fist segment
should be the presentation introduction. In this segment, you should
give an overview of your presentation, or a short summary of your
speech, explaining the topic, why you are covering this topic,
and what you hope to accomplish.
The next segment should tackle the first item on your agenda,
with the following segment tackling the following item on your
agenda, and so on.
Once you have developed the introduction and outlined the following
segments, spend some time thinking about the conclusion of the
presentation. The introduction of the presentation and the conclusion
of the presentation are the most important parts and should have
the strongest impact.
Achieving Clarity and Impact
Keep your presentation short and simple. Your audience will not
remember every point of your presentation, so highlight the most
important parts. The longer the presentation, the higher the risk
When in doubt, use the “tell ‘em” structure:
- Tell them what you are going to tell them (For instance, “In
this presentation I will show you…”).
- Tell them the key points, expanding and illustrating each
one, clearly and concisely.
- Tell them what you have told them (For instance, “In closing…” or “In
summary…”) and conclude.
Reinforce Your Message With Visual Aids
Next, consider the use of visual aids. Slide projectors, data
projectors, video machines and computers should be tested out
beforehand to make
sure they are operating correctly and that you know
how to use them.
Make sure you do not cram too much information
onto any single visual. A good rule of thumb to follow is to keep
each visual to
six lines or less. Also, make sure any type or graphics are large
enough the audience can see it clearly (from all seats) and make
sure the colors used
are easy on the eyes, taking into account the lighting.
A sad fact is that much of your authority will be judged by the
quality of your slides - you need to make sure that their design
supports the style of your message.
Overheads should be clearly marked and arranged in order beforehand.
Flip charts should be prepared in advance when possible. When used
during the presentation to take notes, make print large enough
for all participants to see.
When using these various visuals, do
not turn your back to the audience. Position yourself so you
can use the visuals while facing your audience.
Arranging the Room
visit the room in which you will make the presentation well in
advance. Determine seating (circle seating encourages interaction,
rows of seats discourages interaction, etc.) and determine how
the visual aids you choose will work. Consider lighting, space,
even the temperature of the room. Consider placing notepads and
pencils at each seat if participants need to take notes. Or, you
may want to have glasses at each seat with a few pitchers of water
if the presentation is going to last more than half of an hour.
If you do this, make sure you allow time for bathroom breaks.
While you do not need to memorize your entire presentation, make
yourself very, very familiar with it through several practice runs.
Rehearse the presentation in its entirety as often as you can before
delivering it to a live audience. The more you rehearse, the more
confident you will be and the more fluent you will seem to your
audience - if you know your subject matter and have adequately
prepared, you will
message loud and clear.
When in doubt or nervous, stay focused on your purpose – helping
your audience understand your message. Direct your thoughts to
the subject at hand. The audience has come to hear your presentation
Tips and Techniques
Tips to help make your presentation a smashing success:
- Avoid too many statistics and confusing information in your
presentation. Instead, put this information in a handout for
participants to refer to at a later date.
- If you forget your words, pause for a moment and remember
your objective. While the words may not come right back to
you, this will help keep you on track and may even help you to
of additional thoughts and ideas your audience will benefit
- Visualize yourself succeeding
- Begin by breathing.
- Before the presentation, focus on the needs of the audience.
- Take a public speaking course at a local college or university.
These are oftentimes offered as night courses and are usually
very inexpensive, while providing you with important skills that
enhance your confidence in this area.
- Videotape yourself going through the presentation. All you
need to do this is a video camera and a tripod. Then, run through
the video and make changes according to your thoughts on the