Preparing for a Presentation: Knowing Your Occasion, Audience and Subject

Public speaking is scary even for the most seasoned presenters. Each event or experience presents new challenges, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach. However, with a little advance planning, you can become a sought-after speaker.

Know the occasion

When asked to present, be prepared with a list of questions that can give you the information you need to create the best presentation. If the event is formal, a more serious subject matter and tone is appropriate. If it’s a presentation outside at a picnic, you may want to add some humor or make it less formal, but you may also have to work on projecting your voice. The following questions can help get the information you need to plan for the occasion:

  • Where will the event take place?
  • What will the setting be like? Will there be a stage, podium, microphone?
  • Where will I be on the agenda?
  • Who will speak before me and after me? What will be their topics?
  • Will there be an activity taking place during the program, such as dinner?
  • Is there a theme to the event?
  • Will anyone be recognized? If so, for what?

Know the audience

It’s also important to know who will be in the audience to hear your presentation. You would present a topic differently to a group of third graders than you would to a group of retired hospital workers. So, ask some questions about the audience to help tailor your message. Following are sample questions about the audience:

  • Who will make up the audience? List groups that may be in attendance.
  • Why are they in attendance? What do they want to get out of the event?
  • What do they know about my topic?
  • What is their level of interest in my topic?
  • Why are they interested in my topic?
  • What will they do with the information?
  • Will they be thinking about or engaged in something else while I am speaking?

Know the subject

Using the information you have gained about the occasion and the audience, determine what part of your subject would be most appropriate for the presentation. Good advice for any presentation is to make the subject accessible to the audience. What would they already know about the topic? Take that information and build a presentation around it. Your audience will be more engaged in your presentation if you use stories, everyday examples or common language (not acronyms or jargon) to help them relate to your subject. Here are a few tips for knowing the subject and using it to create the presentation:

  • Use comfortable language, words and phrases both you and the audience will know.
  • Share brief stories that make your point.
  • Provide examples that help the audience relate.
  • Ask the audience questions to engage them in your subject or to see how much they already know.

Successful presentations are made through careful preparation and planning. It’s not only important to have a well-written speech, but also to consider and plan for the environment in which it will be presented. Every occasion and audience is different and needs something different from you as a presenter. Paying attention to careful planning will help make your presentation a success.

facial expressions

Power of Body Language: Using Stance, Gestures and Facial Expressions in Presentations

Imagine someone telling a scary story. Do they hunch their shoulders as if hiding? Do they open their eyes wide, jump about and wave their arms at the climax? If so, they’re probably using body language effectively in their presentation. A well-written speech only gets a presenter halfway to a successful presentation. Much depends on its delivery, too.


Stance is how you stand in front of your audience as you speak. The way you look to your audience can speak volumes even before you open your mouth. If you slouch, hang onto the podium or shuffle your loose change in your pockets, you are conveying nervousness or inexperience. Instead, use your stance to support you from the first step up to the podium. Stand with your feet firmly planted. Adjust your weight to the front of your feet as if you are about to leap. This stance conveys confidence and makes you appear engaged with your audience. Planting both feet firmly helps ground you, as well, which can reduce nervousness. If you’re comfortable walking away from the podium, draw an imaginary box around the podium—not too large in size—and stay within the box. If you stop walking, then assume the stance with feet firmly planted once again.


A gesture is a means of using your arms or hands to convey some meaning to another person. When people express anger, they make fists or cross their arms over their chest in defiance. When people want someone to come to them, they open their arms. When they want to convey a hello or goodbye, they wave. All of these are simple, but effective, gestures used to convey emotion or words every day. Think about what types of gestures would be appropriate for your topic. Gestures can be used to show:

  • Size—demonstrate height, length, weight
  • Action—act out a specific task or
  • Emotion —demonstrate anger, joy, confusion, excitement, fear

Once you’ve identified a few gestures, practice using them in front of a mirror as you present your speech. Only use the ones that come easily—your audience will know when you’re pushing too hard to use a gesture.

Facial Expressions

The most important facial expression to master as a presenter is eye contact. While standing alone in front of a large group can be overwhelming, select four or five people throughout the room with whom to make eye contact. Then, make purposeful eye contact for several seconds with those individuals as you speak. By shifting among these selected few, it will give the illusion that you are making eye contact with people all over the room. Once you’ve mastered eye contact, try using facial expressions to convey something related to your topic. Practice your facial expressions along with your gestures in front of a mirror as you present your speech. Then, use the best combination to enhance the words you are speaking.

As you practice using body language effectively, remember that when you’re alone on stage, it pays to overuse body language. Using natural gestures and expressions won’t convey much to anyone past the first row. This is one case where bigger, and more expressive, is better. So, drag out your mirror and a well-written speech and get to work.