Chapter 11 Presentation Skills

11.2 Planning the Presentation

To think about a strategy for your presentation, you must move from thinking only about your self to how you will engage with the world outside of you, which, of course, includes your audience and environment.

This section focuses on helping you prepare a presentation strategy by selecting an appropriate format, prepare an audience analysis, ensure your style reflects your authentic personality and strengths, and that the tone is appropriate for the occasion.

Then, after you’ve selected the appropriate channel, you will begin drafting your presentation, first by considering the general and specific purposes of your presentation and using an outline to map your ideas and strategy.

You’ll also learn to consider whether to incorporate backchannels or other technology into your presentation, and, finally, you will begin to think about how to develop presentation aids that will support your topic and approach.

At the end of this chapter you should be armed with a solid strategy for approaching your presentation in a way that is authentically you, balanced with knowing what’s in it for your audience while making the most of the environment.

Preparing a Presentation Strategy

Incorporating FAST

You can use the acronym FAST to develop your message according to the elements of format, audience, style, and tone. When you are working on a presentation, much like in your writing, you will rely on FAST to help you make choices.


  • Format – What type of document will you use? What are the elements of that document type?
  • Audience – Who will receive your message? What are their expectations? What’s in it for them?
  • Style – What personality does your writing have? Consider issues like word choice, sentence length and punctuation.
  • Tone – How do you want your audience to feel about your message? Is your message formal or informal? Positive or negative? Polite? Direct or indirect?

There is a FAST Form template to fill out.


First, you’ll need to think about the format of your presentation. This is a choice between presentation types. In your professional life you’ll encounter the verbal communication channels in the following table. The purpose column labels each channel with a purpose (I=Inform, P=Persuade, or E=Entertain) depending on that channel’s most likely purpose.

Presentation Communication Channels
Channel Direction Level of Formality Interaction Purpose
Speech One to many Formal Low  One-sided I, P, E
Presentation One or few to many Formal Variable  Often includes Q&A I, P, E
Panel Few to many Formal High  Q&A-based I, P
Meeting Group Informal High I, P
Teleconference Group Informal High I, P
Workshop One to many Informal High  Collaborative I (Educate)
Webinar One to many Formal Low I
Podcast One to many Formal Low  Recorded I, P, E

There are some other considerations to make when you are selecting a format. For example, the number of speakers may influence the format you choose. Panels and presentations may have more than one speaker. In meetings and teleconferences, multiple people will converse. In a workshop setting, one person will usually lead the event, but there is often a high level of collaboration between participants.

The location of participants will also influence your decision. For example, if participants cannot all be in the same room, you might choose a teleconference or webinar. If asynchronous delivery (participants access the presentation at different times) is important, you might record a podcast. When choosing a technology-reliant channel, such as a teleconference or webinar, be sure to test your equipment and make sure each participant has access to any materials they need before you begin.

When your presentation is for a course assignment, often these issues are specified for you in the assignment. But if they aren’t, you can consider the best format for your topic, content, and audience. Once you have chosen a format, make sure your message is right for your audience.  You’ll need to think about issues such as the following:

  • What expectations will the audience have?
  • What is the context of your communication?
  • What does the audience already know about the topic?
  • How is the audience likely to react to you and your message?

AUDIENCE Analysis Form

  • Analyze – Who will receive your message?
  • Understand – What do they already know or understand about your intended message?
  • Demographics – What is their age, gender, education level, occupation, position?
  • Interest – What is their level of interest/investment in your message? (What’s in it for them?)
  • Environment – What setting/reality is your audience immersed in and what is your relationship to it? What is their likely attitude to your message? Have you taken cultural differences into consideration?
  • Need – What information does your audience need? How will they use the information?
  • Customize – How do you adjust your message to better suit your audience?
  • Expectations – What does your audience expect from you or your message?

Here is an Audience Analysis Form template to fill out.


Next, you’ll consider the style of your presentation. Some of the things you discovered about yourself as a speaker in the self-awareness exercises earlier will influence your presentation style. Perhaps you prefer to present formally, limiting your interaction with the audience, or perhaps you prefer a more conversational, informal style, where discussion is a key element. You may prefer to cover serious subjects, or perhaps you enjoy delivering humorous speeches. Style is all about your personality!

Finally, you’ll select a tone for your presentation. Your voice, body language, level of self-confidence, dress, and use of space all contribute to the mood that your message takes on. Consider how you want your audience to feel when they leave your presentation, and approach it with that mood in mind.

Presentation Purpose

Your presentation will have a general and specific purpose. Your general purpose may be to inform, persuade, or entertain. It’s likely that any speech you develop will have a combination of these goals. Most presentations have a little bit of entertainment value, even if they are primarily attempting to inform or persuade. For example, the speaker might begin with a joke or dramatic opening, even though their speech is primarily informational.

Your specific purpose addresses what you are going to inform, persuade, or entertain your audience with—the main topic of your speech. Each example below includes two pieces of information: first, the general purpose; second, the specific purpose.


To inform the audience about my favourite car, the Ford Mustang.

To persuade the audience that global warming is a threat to the environment.


Aim to speak for 90 percent of your allotted time so that you have time to answer audience questions at the end (assuming you have allowed for this). If audience questions are not expected, aim for 95 percent. Do not go overtime—audience members may need to be somewhere else immediately following your presentation, and you will feel uncomfortable if they begin to pack up and leave while you are still speaking. Conversely, you don’t want to finish too early, as they may feel as if they didn’t get their “money’s worth.”

To assess the timing of your speech as you prepare, you can

  • Set a timer while you do a few practice runs, and take an average.
  • Run your speech text through an online speech timer.
  • Estimate based on the number of words (the average person speaks at about 120 words per minute).

You can improve your chances of hitting your time target when you deliver your speech, by marking your notes with an estimated time at certain points. For example, if your speech starts at 2 p.m., you might mark 2:05 at the start of your notes for the body section, so that you can quickly glance at the clock and make sure you are on target. If you get there more quickly, consciously try to pause more often or speak more slowly, or speed up a little if you are pressed for time. If you have to adjust your timing as you are delivering the speech, do so gradually. It will be jarring to the audience if you start out speaking at a moderate pace, then suddenly realize you are going to run out of time and switch to rapid-fire delivery!

Incorporating Backchannels

Have you ever been to a conference where speakers asked for audience questions via social media? Perhaps one of your teachers at school has used Twitter for student comments and questions, or has asked you to vote on an issue through an online poll. Technology has given speakers new ways to engage with an audience in real time, and these can be particularly useful when it isn’t practical for the audience to share their thoughts verbally—for example, when the audience is very large, or when they are not all in the same location.

These secondary or additional means of interacting with your audience are called backchannels, and you might decide to incorporate one into your presentation, depending on your aims. They can be helpful for engaging more introverted members of the audience who may not be comfortable speaking out verbally in a large group. Using publicly accessible social networks, such as a Facebook Page or Twitter feed, can also help to spread your message to a wider audience, as audience members share posts related to your speech with their networks. Because of this, backchannels are often incorporated into conferences; they are helpful in marketing the conference and its speakers both during and after the event.

There are some caveats involved in using these backchannels, though. If, for example, you ask your audience to submit their questions via Twitter, you’ll need to choose a hashtag for them to append to the messages so that you can easily find them. You’ll also need to have an assistant who will sort and choose the audience questions for you to answer. It is much too distracting for the speaker to do this on their own during the presentation. You could, however, respond to audience questions and comments after the presentation via social media, gaining the benefits of both written and verbal channels to spread your message.

Developing the Content

Creating an Outline

As with any type of messaging, it helps if you create an outline of your speech or presentation before you create it fully. This ensures that each element is in the right place and gives you a place to start to avoid the dreaded blank page. Here is an outline template that you can adapt for your purpose. Replace the placeholders in the content column with your ideas or points, then make some notes in the verbal and visual delivery column about how you will support or emphasize these points using the techniques we’ve discussed. This outline is appropriate for a presentation meant to inform or persuade. You’ll note this is similar to an outline for a research paper.

Presentation Outline
Section Content Verbal and Visual Delivery
  • Attention-grabber
  • Main idea
  • Common ground
  • I. Main idea: Point 1
  • Sub-point 1
  • A.1 specific information 1
  • A.2 specific information 2
  • II. Main idea: Point 2
  • Sub-point 1
  • B.1 specific information 1
  • B.2 specific information 2
  • III. Main idea: Point 3
  • Sub-point 1
  • C.1 specific information 1
  • C.2 specific information 2
  • Summary of main points 1–3
  • Residual message/call-to-action


The beginning of your speech needs an attention-grabber to get your audience interested right away. Choose your attention-grabbing device based on what works best for your topic. Your entire introduction should be only around 10 to 15 percent of your total speech, so be sure to keep this section short. Here are some devices that you could try for attention-grabbers:

Examples of Attention Grabbers
Attention Grabber Purpose Examples
Subject statement A subject statement is to the point, but not the most interesting choice. We are surrounded by statistical information in today’s world, so understanding statistics is becoming paramount to citizenship in the twenty-first century.
Audience reference An audience reference highlights something common to the audience that will make them interested in the topic. As human resource professionals, you and I know the importance of talent management. In today’s competitive world, we need to invest in getting and keeping the best talent for our organizations to succeed.
Quotation Share wise words of another person. You can find quotations online that cover just about any topic. Oliver Goldsmith, a sixteenth-century writer, poet, and physician, once noted that “the true use of speech is not so much to express our wants as to conceal them.”
Current event Refer to a current event in the news that demonstrates the relevance of your topic to the audience. On January 10, 2007, Scott Anthony Gomez Jr. and a fellow inmate escaped from a Pueblo, Colorado, jail. During their escape the duo attempted to rappel from the roof of the jail using a makeshift ladder of bed sheets. During Gomez’s attempt to scale the building, he slipped, fell 40 feet, and injured his back. After being quickly apprehended, Gomez filed a lawsuit against the jail for making it too easy for him to escape.
Historical event Compare or contrast your topic with an occasion in history. During the 1960s and ’70s, the United States intervened in the civil strife between North and South Vietnam. The result was a long-running war of attrition in which many American lives were lost and the country of Vietnam suffered tremendous damage and destruction. We saw a similar war waged in Iraq. American lives were lost, and stability has not yet returned to the region.
Anecdote, parable, or fable An anecdote is a brief account or story of an interesting or humorous event, while a parable or fable is a symbolic tale designed to teach a life lesson. In July 2009, a high school girl named Alexa Longueira was walking along a main boulevard near her home on Staten Island, New York, typing in a message on her cell phone. Not paying attention to the world around her, she took a step and fell right into an open manhole (Witney, 2009).

The ancient Greek writer Aesop told a fable about a boy who put his hand into a pitcher of filberts. The boy grabbed as many of the delicious nuts as he possibly could. But when he tried to pull them out, his hand wouldn’t fit through the neck of the pitcher because he was grasping so many filberts. Instead of dropping some of them so that his hand would fit, he burst into tears and cried about his predicament. The moral of the story? “Don’t try to do too much at once” (Aesop, 1881).

Surprising statement A strange fact or statistic related to your topic that startles your audience.
  • A Boeing 747 airliner holds 57,285 gallons of fuel.
  • The average person has over 1,460 dreams a year.
  • There are no clocks in any casinos in Las Vegas.
  • In 2000, Pope John Paul II became the most famous honorary member of the Harlem Globetrotters.
Question You could ask either a question that asks for a response from your audience, or a rhetorical question, which does not need a response but is designed to get them thinking about the topic.
  • Raise your hand if you have ever thought about backpacking in Europe.
  • If you prick us, do we not bleed? (Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice)
Humour A joke or humorous quotation can work well, but to use humour you need to be sure that your audience will find the comment funny. You run the risk of insulting members of the audience, or leaving them puzzled if they don’t get the joke, so test it out on someone else first! “The only thing that stops God from sending another flood is that the first one was useless.” —Nicolas Chamfort, sixteenth-century French author
Personal reference Refer to a story about yourself that is relevant to the topic. In the fall of 2008, I decided that it was time that I took my life into my own hands. After suffering for years with the disease of obesity, I decided to take a leap of faith and get a gastric bypass in an attempt to finally beat the disease.
Occasion reference This device is only relevant if your speech is occasion-specific, for example, a toast at a wedding, a ceremonial speech, or a graduation commencement. Today we are here to celebrate the wedding of two wonderful people.

The above provides several options for attention-grabbers, but remember you likely only need one. After the attention-getter comes the rest of your introduction. It needs to do the following:

  • Capture the audience’s interest
  • State the purpose of your speech
  • Establish credibility
  • Give the audience a reason to listen
  • Signpost the main ideas


For post-secondary students, your class presentation is likely to fulfill an assignment such as presenting the findings of a research paper or summarizing a class unit. It is important to realize that your presentation does not need to include all of your information. In fact, it is unwise (and very boring) to read your whole research paper in your presentation. Choose the important and interesting things to highlight in your presentation.

Your audience will think to themselves, Why should I listen to this speech? What’s in it for me? One of the best things you can do as a speaker is to answer these questions early in your body, if you haven’t already done so in your introduction. This will serve to gain their support early and will fill in the blanks of who, what, when, where, why, and how in their minds.

You can use the outline to organize your topics. Gather the general ideas you want to convey. There is often more than one way to organize a speech. Some of your points could be left out, and others developed more fully, depending on the purpose and audience. You will refine this information until you have the number of main points you need. Ensure that they are distinct, and balance the content of your speech so that you spend roughly the same amount of time addressing each. Make sure to use parallel structure to make sure each of your main points is phrased in the same way. The last thing to do when working on your body is to make sure your points are in a logical order, so that your ideas flow naturally from one to the next.

Practical Examples

Depending on the topic, it is often useful to use practical examples to demonstrate your point. If your presentation is about the impacts of global warming, for example, it would be wise to mention some familiar natural disasters that are linked to global warming. If your presentation is about how to do a good presentation, you could mention several specific examples of things that could go wrong if the presenter isn’t organized. These practical examples help the audience relate the content to real life and understand it better.

Using Humour

If appropriate, using humour in the presentation is often a welcome diversion from a serious topic. It lightens the mood, often helps relieve anxiety, and creates engagement with the audience. It needs to be used sparingly and tastefully. Humour is often an area that can offend, so run your ideas past others before incorporating it into your presentation.

Presentation Conclusion

You will want to conclude your presentation on a high note. You’ll need to keep your energy up until the very end of your speech. In your conclusion, you will want to reiterate the main points of your presentation. This will help to tie together the concepts for your audience. It will also help them realize you are wrapping it up. It is often a good idea to leave them with a final thought or call to action, depending on the general purpose of your message. Lastly, remember to be clear that it is the end of your presentation. Don’t end it by throwing one last piece of information or it will seem like you’ve left it hanging. End with a general statement about the topic or a thought to ponder. Ending with “thank you” also lets them know it’s the end. Once you have completed your question, you can invite questions and comments from the audience if appropriate.

Key Takeaways

  • FAST (Format, Audience, Style, Tone) is a useful approach for ensuring your presentation strategy is comprehensive.
  • Doing an audience analysis using the AUDIENCE tool helps us to better understand what’s in it for them.
  • Using an outline is a good way to stay organized while you write your speech.
  • Your presentation intro should include an appropriate attention grabber in the introduction. There are several types to choose from.
  • The body of your presentation should be organized and structured appropriately, presenting the main ideas and their related specifics in an orderly manner.
  • The conclusion should include a summary of the main points along with a residual message or call to action.
  • Always aim to conclude on a high note.


In this section you considered the importance of FAST and AUDIENCE tools in helping to lay out a strategy that incorporates your own understanding with the needs of the audience. You learned about how to use an outline to stay organized and keep track of your ideas, as well as general and specific purposes. You learned the importance of sustaining your audience’s attention throughout the presentation with key approaches you can take as you write your introduction, body, and conclusion. You should now be prepared to take your strategy to the next level by ensuring you next consider whether and how to incorporate high-quality presentation aids.

Exercise: Check Your Understanding – Presentation Planning

  1. You have been asked to present the pros and cons of living in student residence which will be followed by a group discussion with your classmates. The general purpose and approach you should use is
    1. To entertain
    2. To  inform
    3. To persuade
    4. To terrify
  2. Why should you consider timing when preparing for a presentation?
    1. To avoid running out of time and having to cut short important content
    2. To make sure that the rate at which you speak gives the desired effect
    3. To make sure you have correctly timed technological elements such as slides
    4. All of the above
    5. Only (a) & (c)
  3. The three main general purposes of speaking are to:
    1. Entertain, persuade, and debate
    2. Persuade, inform, and perpetuate
    3. Celebrate, perpetuate, and inform
    4. Inform, persuade, and entertain
    5. Deliberative, epideictic, and forensic
  4. If you are delivering a presentation without any additional assistance and would like to make use of backchannels, an effective strategy would be:
    1. Have an extra laptop available so you can keep track of comments as they come in
    2. At natural breaks in the presentation, minimize your other visual aids and display the comment feed
    3. Wait until after the presentation to view the comments and reply to questions via the backchannel
    4. Select a person in the room  to monitor the backchannel and cue you into questions
  5. A successful introduction should
    1. Establish your credibility
    2. Explain the relevance of your topic to your audience
    3. Lay out a simple map of your speech
    4. All of the above
  6. Which of the following best describes the role of a conclusion in a speech?
    1. To help the audience remember the primary message from the speech
    2. To summarize the main points of the speech
    3. To lead into a Q&A session
    4. All of the above
    5. Only (a) & (b)
  7. You have been invited to speak to the Student Association on ways to avoid spreading germs in the college. Which of the following would be the most effective way to get their attention at the beginning of your speech or presentation?
    1. Pretend to sneeze into your hands several times as you walk up to a student. Then wipe the back of that hand across your nose before extending it to the student for a handshake.
    2. Ask them “How many of you like catching colds?”
    3. Tell a story about the time you got to skip school for a week because you caught a bad cold.
    4. Provide data that show 2 percent of all colds progress to life-threatening conditions like pneumonia or pleurisy.
  8. Which of the following principles of outline creation is INCORRECT?
    1. Your outline should include all the details of your presentation.
    2. Your outline should show your plan for an introduction, body, and conclusion.
    3. Your outline should show that you adequately supported your main points.
    4. Your outline should show that you have presented similar ideas in parallel ways.
  9. Which of the following is NOT a function shared by BOTH the introduction and the conclusion of a speech?
    1. Identify the main points
    2. Get the audience’s attention
    3. Make the topic important to the audience
    4. Present the speech’s thesis


Aesop (1881). Aesop’s fables. New York, NY: Wm. L. Allison. Retrieved from

Ebbinghaus, H. (1885). Memory: A contribution to experimental psychology [Online version]. Retrieved from

Whitney, L. (2009, July 13). Don’t text while walking? Girl learns the hard way. CNET News Wireless. Retrieved from

Text Attributions

This chapter is an adaptation of the following chapter:

  • Presenting in a Professional Context” in Professional Communication OER by Olds College OER Development Team. Adapted by Mary Shier. CC BY. (The Olds College chapter itself is a remix that incorporates content from multiple sources. For a full list, refer to the Olds College chapter.)


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Student Success Copyright © 2020 by Mary Shier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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