Three preparation tips for better presentations

  1. “Preparation is everything.”
  2. “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”
  3. “I’ve always considered myself to be just average talent and what I have is a ridiculous insane obsessiveness for practise and preparation.”

Three quotes from an A-list actor, an athlete and a four-star general. You will have to read to the end to find out who said what; in the meantime they serve as a perfect introduction to the topic of the importance of preparation.

I am a great advocate of preparation, based on the experience of sitting through many presentations which have been altogether lacking in this aspect. You would be surprised at how many people, who should know better, scrimp in this department and rely on ‘winging it’. Take it from me, lack of preparation always shows and is often the difference between being a hit or a miss on stage, no matter how big or small that stage may be.

To give some guidance on getting prepared, here are three useful tips to take into account as you begin your preparation process:

Know your purpose

Right at the start of the planning process, ask yourself what do you want your audience to do, think or feel after the presentation? Understand a complex topic, instruct you, be inspired by you. Whatever it is, make this the end point that you are aiming towards.  Write down and finish the following sentence:

                ‘At the end of my presentation I want my audience to…’

After all, if you haven’t thought about what you want your audience to do then that won’t come through in your presentation and they will not pick that up.  This is all to do with the subconscious power of intention.

Know your audience

A common mistake that presenters make is to underestimate their audience. Preparing an off the shelf speech that contains the material, but does not consider the audience, is not going to make the impression you are hoping for. Curiosity is a helpful tool when preparing, so employ some when asking yourself questions about your audience.

Who are they and why are the there, what do they already know and what do they want to know from you? What is their grasp of the topic, what is their knowledge gap and how do you bridge that with your material?

Always think about what you are trying to achieve and what your audience wants and remember that any audience has three basic needs:

  • Tell me something I don’t know
  • Don’t bore me
  • Don’t go over time


This means that you do have to have some actual content of course.  When you rehearse, please do so OUT LOUD and in front of at least one other person who will provide decent feedback (i.e. not someone whose next promotion is in your power).  Rehearse under battle conditions so that you can

  • Develop confidence and deal with nerves in the actual event
  • Stick to time
  • Ensure that you are speaking in short sentences without too much embedded detail. Really important.

There are no shortcuts when it comes to preparation, something that is well known to the originators of the three quotes above.

  1. David Robinson – former NBA basketballer
  2. Colin Powell – American statesman and former US Army general
  3. Will Smith – actor and former Fresh Prince of Bel Air

Luan de Burgh is a professional public speaker and presentation coach.

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