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.

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