Preparing the Presentation

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Before developing a presentation on a given topic, know the requirements, purpose and audience of the presentation and then prepare an outline of the presentation.

Know the Requirements

Knowing the requirements of a presentation involves finding the answers for several relevant questions:

How much time will you have to deliver the presentation?

This dictates how much you have to prepare and how detailed it should be. The number of slides necessary for a 5-minute class presentation may differ considerably from what is necessary for a 30-minute project presentation.

Who and how many will be in the audience?

This impacts the formality of the presentation and its context, as well as the attire you may have to wear.

A thesis or dissertation presentation for a committee of faculty, or a project presentation for client at a company, may have a small audience and require formality in your delivery and attire (as appropriate for your discipline).

The context could involve evaluation of your presentation for a course grade or obtaining a project for your company.

Knowing the audience is also important for accommodating people with different abilities.

Where will you deliver the presentation?

This impacts the design of presentation materials, your delivery (whether you need a microphone or not) and the possibility to interact with the audience.

A small conference room (as opposed to a large classroom or an auditorium) may require developing different type of presentation materials.

A small conference room or classroom may allow you to interact easily with the audience, while a large auditorium where you deliver the presentation from the stage may not allow you that flexibility.

What type of technologies will be available to deliver the presentation?

This impacts the selection of technologies to match what will be available at the presentation location.

The delivery technologies can include presentation software and data projector, document camera, flip charts, microphone, web browsers, etc.

If you design your presentation using an online presentation tool, and plan to deliver the presentation using the same, it is critical to make sure that online presentation tool will be available at the delivery location, or you can bring your own.

Will you deliver the presentation alone or as part of a panel or a team?

This impacts what you prepare and how you will have to deliver it.

If you have to deliver the presentation by yourself, you will have considerable flexibility on how you can design and deliver your presentation.

If you have to present as part of a panel or a team, then you may have to coordinate with other presenters, to align your portion appropriately with theirs and not duplicate material.

Do you have to prepare handouts of your presentation to distribute to the audience?

This impacts the design of your presentation materials and the cost of making copies of the presentation.

Some presentation materials may come across well on a large screen but not on paper.

Distributing copies of your presentation will require you to know in advance how many copies to make, and any to make in large fonts for those with visual impairments.

What alternatives do you have if there are unexpected changes at the last minute to any of the previous items?

This helps you to develop Plan B solutions in case there are unexpected changes.

Planning simple alternatives to handle unavailability of particular delivery technologies in the presentation location or change in presentation duration can reduce stress and help you deliver your presentation effectively.

Saving presentation materials in different formats and media will help to adapt to any unexpected changes at the last minute.

Know the Purpose

Learn about the purpose of your presentation from your course instructor or the organizer of your presentation.

The purpose of a presentation can be (and are not limited) to:

  • Inform an audience, as in a formal thesis or project presentation.
  • Persuade an audience, as in selling a proposal for service to a client or convincing an interviewer.
  • Entertain an audience, as in presenting at a reception.
  • Speak on a special occasion, such as honoring a colleague.
  • Educate an audience, as in teaching or training a group of people.

Informative Presentation

This video clip is an example of the presenter informing the audience.

Persuasive Presentation

This video clip is an example of a presenter attempting to persuade the audience.

Entertaining Presentation

This video clip is an example of the presenter attempting to entertain.

Honoring Presentation

This video clip is an example of the presenter speaking to the audience on a special occasion.


Knowing the purpose of the presentation will help you design, develop, and deliver the presentation for the intended purpose.

For example, a brief technical presentation for informing an audience may not leave time for very many interactions with the audience, including questions and answers (Q&A) at the end.

However, a technical presentation as part of a thesis or dissertation defense will involve considerable Q&A by the faculty committee and the audience.

Presenting for the purpose of educating or training an audience may require considerable interaction and Q&A during the presentations.

Presenting for the purpose of entertaining an audience may not be very formal, whereas honoring someone may be formal, and both may not involve Q&A at the end.

Knowing the purpose of the presentation can also help in arranging the room layout and audience seating (if that flexibility is available), so you can interact easily with the audience appropriately.

Know the Audience

It is important to know your audience demographics before you prepare your presentation. Knowing who they are (faculty, students, etc.), their familiarity with the topic, and their role (gain information, evaluate your learning, etc.) in attending your presentation, will help you organize your thoughts appropriately.


Presentation Level Appropriate

This video clip is an example of a presentation that is appropriate for a non-expert audience.

Presentation Level Inappropriate

This video clip is an example of a presentation that is too technical for a non-expert audience.


Presenting a topic to a specific audience requires careful preparation so the presentation will make sense to them and fulfill their needs. Some audience demographics include age, gender, faculty or students and educational background. Presenting to a group of your peers will require you to present the topic with authority, but on their level of understanding and with the ability to motivate them to ask questions. Presenting to a faculty audience will also require you to present the topic with authority, but you may need to prepare for more substantial questions and remarks.

Prepare an Outline

Once you know the requirements and the purpose of the presentation, the next step is to prepare an outline. Preparing an outline will give you a roadmap or a sense of direction for developing the presentation for the required purpose.

Before you develop an outline, ask yourself what you would want your audience to know in the time you have to present it. The outline should consist of the major headings or topics of your presentation.

The outline should have a beginning, middle and an end so that the audience can follow your ideas logically from the beginning to the end. You can then elaborate each major topic or heading into appropriate points.

The type of outline and the list of headings or topics may depend on the nature of the discipline and the purpose of a presentation.

For example, the outline of a technical presentation for informing an audience can consist of headings such as:

  • Problem Statement
  • Objectives and Scope
  • Literature Review
  • Methodology
  • Experimentation
  • Analysis
  • Conclusions

Similarly, the outline of XYZ Corporation's (your employer) proposal presentation to a client ABC Co. for obtaining a project can consist of headings such as:

  • Welcome and Introductions
  • Needs and Trends
  • XYZ Corporation
  • XYZ’s Products and Services
  • Major Clients of XYZ
  • How XYZ can serve the needs of ABC
  • Possible Opportunities
  • Contact Information
  • Q&A

An example of an outline for a non-technical presentation in the humanities or other disciplines could include the following:

  1. Introduction
    1. Purpose, thesis, preview
  2. Body of Presentation
    1. First (second, third) point(s), supporting evidence of thesis
    2. Possible objections analyzed and or refuted
    3. Source of information
    4. Transition to conclusion
  3. Conclusion
    1. Restate thesis
    2. Statement of possible actions, next steps
    3. Memory and attention-reinforcing strategies (quote, anecdote, etc.)
    4. Discussion of limitations, missing elements
    5. Closing or summary statement

Depending on the allotted duration of your presentation, you can then plan on how much time to spend on each topic, and develop the presentation materials accordingly.

The outline will depend on the content of your presentation and the outline need not dictate how the presentation will be delivered.

One can develop an outline or a framework for a presentation but organize the content in a non-sequential manner for delivery. This is especially suited for when the outline is in the form of a pictorial framework where each part can be presented non-sequentially.

Once you have developed the outline of your presentation, the next step is to organize the content.