How to Prepare for a Presentation, with Examples


Updated February 15, 2021 - Dom Barnard

This guide covers everything you need to know to prepare for your presentation. including what you need to think about beforehand, during and after the presentation.

1. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse (always aloud)

Once you have your presentation worked out, you will need to practice it, but even though you might think it’s the best way to have a flawless presentation, don’t memorise what you’re going to say.

That might sound like incredibly bad advice, but here’s why:

  • If you memorise your speech, you’ll get stuck in thinking you can only deliver your ideas in that way, and that stifles your creativity, and the chance for new thoughts and ways to put things that come up as you speak.

Not only that, but every audience is different. Sometimes they laugh out loud, sometimes they sit and smile, and you never know which type of audience you’ll have until you’re live.

If you’re going off a memorised presentation, it’s much more difficult to break away from that to go with the flow on the day, and respond naturally to your audience.

  • If you forget your speech in the middle of it, you will be thrown, and you’ll have more chance of complete brain freeze, which really will knock your confidence.
  • Memorising your presentation gives you a false sense of security, which could leave you high and dry if something goes wrong. If you’ve only got your memorised speech, for example, what will you do if your PowerPoint freezes or your props break, and you can’t do what you were going to do?

Rehearse in front of colleagues, friends, a mirror, in virtual reality – always aloud. Make sure you spend plenty of time practising your presentation, it will make you feel much more relaxed if you know your material.

Courses where you can rehearse in realistic simulations:

Video showing how you can prepare for your presentation using virtual reality. Learn more about virtual reality training.

2. Memorise your opening line

Do, however, memorise your opening line. If you know how you’re going to begin, you’ll get a strong start and that will build your confidence.

Many speakers and stage actors find that the minute they’ve actually delivered their first line, the nerves are gone and they’re well into their stride.

3. Practise your speech from written notes

Writing your presentation out in your own handwriting will help you clarify your ideas and may well bring you new ones.

4. Practise presentation flow

As well as practising for the ideas and what you want to say, practise how you want your presentation to flow. Think of it almost as a symphony, with high points, slow movements and crescendos. If it’s important, think about how you want your audience to feel, what emotions you want them to have, and when.

5. The power of silence

Don’t be afraid to pause and use the power of silence. A good pause can have a huge emotional impact. It allows people to really absorb what you are saying and react, and it’s vital to pause if you’re using humour so that the next part of your presentation doesn’t get lost underneath people’s laughter.

For more on the 'Power of the Pause', watch this short from video Brian Tracy: The Power of the Pause

6. Have a backup

There’s nothing worse than the projector dying or finding that your laptop won’t communicate with the projector for some reason. If you know you have a backup, even if it’s only a pre-prepared flip chart, you’ll feel better, and you’ll be more confident.

7. Arrive early

Following on from that, arrive at least half an hour early so you aren’t feeling rushed, and so you have time to check your equipment and get your notes laid out ready to go. That gives you time to breathe and relax before you go on, knowing everything is as set as it can be.

8. Use physical props for a demo

Use physical props, if possible, for a demo. This can make you stand out and be more memorable among all the other speakers who only use PowerPoint, and it can add greatly to the impact of your presentation.

Video showing an example of using physical props during a live demo.

9. Structure your presentation

First, find out how much time you have to present, is it 10 minutes, 15, an hour? Prepare enough material for this time and have a couple of extra slides as backup – we tend to speak much quicker when nervous so you might find you finish your presentation too early. At some large conference events, timings may change on the day, be aware of this have a shorter version of your presentation in mind (i.e. know which slides to skip over).

10. Prepare for questions

Have a few backup slides for questions you think will arise from your presentation. It is sometime a tactic to explain a section briefly in your speech, so that you get a question about it afterwards. If you don’t understand the question, ask for it to be rephrased.

If there are no questions, it is not an indication how good or bad your presentation was. You many have explain your material extremely well, or simply that people are tired at the end of the day and want to go home.

11. Prepare for where you are presenting

If you can, go to the room you are speaking in before the actual event. It gives you an idea of furniture layout, podium height, location, room size, audience size and lighting. You can then visualise the room while practising and avoid the shock of suddenly being faced with a huge room when you expected a tiny one.

Ask the organiser if you need any particular props, for example a table to help with your live demo.

Additional planning to think about before your presentation:

1. Purpose – what outcome are we trying to achieve? How can results be measured? What will success look like?

2. Topic – Novelty? Complexity? Technical?

3. People – Who should attend? What do they already know? How are they going to help?

4. Timing – When will it happen and how long will the presentation take?

5. Location – Where will the presentation be held? Do you have access to the correct facilities for the presentation?

6. Papers – Who is keeping minutes? Do you need to send out an agenda before the presentation? Background information required?

7. Visual aids – Is a projector required? Boards?

8. Style – Structure or unstructured, discussion style? How assertive should you be? How should the meeting items be organised?

12. Choose the signals to give to your audience

Before the presentation, think about these 5 topics:

  1. Voice
  2. Pace
  3. Eye contact
  4. Facial gestures
  5. Body language

Decide how you will use each of these to reinforce your message. Use the table below for help.

Passive Aggressive Assertive
Voice Flat, monotonous, trails off, shaky, hesitant. Sharp, cold, loud, shouts, abrupt, clipped, fast. Controlled, firm, warm, rich, clear, even, loud.
Pace Ers and ums, jerky, too slow, too fast. Fast, emphatic, blameful, abrupt, erratic, hurried. Steady and controlled, changes easily.
Eye Contact Evasive, looking down, darting, low eye contact. Stares and glaring, dominating, fixed gaze, threatening. Firm not fixed, natural and relaxed.
Facial Gestures Fixed smile, apology facial gestures, blinking, blushing, chewing lip. Set face, few smiles, clenched jaw, frowning, chin forward, lips tight, gritted teeth. Open, varied and congruent expressions, calm, jaw relaxed, few blinks, smiles.
Body Language Hunched, hand over mouth, arms crossed, head down, slumping, legs crossed, stands awkwardly, soft handshake. Thumping, clenched fists, pointing, pacing, leaning forward, sharp and rapid movements, crushing handshake. Open hand and arm movements, head upright, calm, emphatic gestures, relaxed, head nodding to show attention, firm handshake.

Additional courses to help you prepare for your presentation:

Example from Steve Jobs

Think about these 10 techniques while you are preparing your presentation.

10 presentation techniques Steve Jobs used
  1. Planning in Analog. Tell a story, create stunning visuals and videos to complement video, use demonstrations and other speakers, keep the audience engaged.
  2. Creating a Twitter-Friendly Description Single description sentence, condensed his message into 140 characters.
  3. Introduce the Enemy Story needs villains or a problem to be solved. Jobs highlighted IBM and useless mobile phones (during iPhone release) as his villains.
  4. Focusing on Benefits Keep reinforcing the benefits of your product, create top 10 lists, understand this is what customers care about.
  5. Sticking to Rule of Three Classic Literary technique, things are best remembered and reinforced in threes. Read this article on Literary Techniques for more detail.
  6. Sell Dreams, Not Products Create a vision people believe in, create a vision which will make people’s lives better
  7. Create Visual Slides Use as few words as possible and use colourful graphics on the slide to highlight points.
  8. Make Numbers Meaningful Compare large numbers to things people understand.
  9. Use Plain English Use easy to say and easy to remember words, keep it simple.
  10. Large Reveals Due to Apple secrecy, Jobs was able to deliver unexpected products to the world at his product launches.