The First Step to Better Speeches and Presentations

Here’s a sure-fire way to develop more meaningful and effective speeches and presentations: stop creating them in PowerPoint. Now, I’m not saying to never use PowerPoint (or any other media) for visual support, but rather just don’t use the program to conceptualize and write your speech.

Everyone and every presentation is unique. That means that every speaking opportunity must be approached in a way that’s right for you, your audience and the particular situation. But by its very nature, PowerPoint literally puts you in a box (or more accurately, a rectangle). It constrains your thinking and forces you to play by its rules.

And, though most of us appreciate and admire Bill Gates, why should we let him tell us how to organize our thoughts and tell our stories?

So, what to do instead? First, after clarifying your Purpose and determining your Strategy (see 5 Steps to Improved Performance for more details) open up a blank Word document or grab a pen and a pad of paper. Then write down your Motivating Conclusions—the big ideas and key take-aways of your speech. Typically these take the form of clear, declarative statements that create the Experience Arc of your presentation.

Then add the stories, data, evidence and arguments to support each conclusion. The final pieces are an introduction, a conclusion and your transitions, which gives you all the elements of your speech.

Where you go from here depends on your particular needs. You can flesh out your speech with speaking points or even a word for word script. I’m a big proponent of the two-column format, with your messages on the right and the visuals on the left. This helps you work in a more fluid fashion and keeps your focus on both what you are saying and what’s on the screen.

At some point you will begin to develop the visual support for your presentation—most likely using PowerPoint, Prezi or other programs—but now you are ready. By taking the first step of clarifying and writing down your conclusions, your slides will do what they are supposed to do: support you in connecting with your audience and delivering a great speech.

What techniques do you use to more effectively prepare for a speech or presentation?

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