Whether delivering a presentation at an academic conference or giving a lecture, preparation is critical to a successful presentation. The following tips are meant to give you a great start on preparing your next presentation.

Set objectives

Your presentation may have more than one purpose; however, it must have at least one purpose that you're aware of! Before beginning to plan your presentation, answer the following questions:

  • A man writing Why am I speaking?

  • What’s the “take-home” message?

  • How should my audience feel when I'm done?

  • What do I want to achieve?

    • information dissemination
    • motivation
    • persuasion
  • How will I know whether I've been successful or not?

Consider your audience 

Keep a picture of your audience in mind while preparing your presentation. Remember that different types of presentations suit different audiences. Before planning your presentation, ask yourself the following questions about your audience:

  • What is their demographic profile? (Age, sex, occupation, education level, socio-economic status, etc.)

  • Why are they here? (Self-improvement, coursework, optional or mandatory training, entertainment, desperation, etc.)

  • What will your audience expect? For example:

    • an undergraduate discussion group may expect an opportunity to share and clarify ideas;
    • conference participants will expect evidence of solid research;
    • workshop participants may expect practical advice;
    • wedding guests may expect entertainment and creation of "atmosphere"
  • How much does your audience …

    • already know about your topic?
    • need to know about your topic?
    • want to know about your topic?

Decide on a structure

You must decide how you will break your topic down into points and organize them. Different topics are best organized in different ways. The most common structures are:

  • topical: e.g., in a psychology course, examine in turn four different theorists on human behaviour
  • chronological/sequential: e.g., in a history course, begin talking about events that happened long ago, and end with most recent events
  • cause-effect: e.g., in an economics course, begin by talking about the factors that create the distribution of wealth in Canada, and proceed to talk about the effect of these factors
  • structural/graphical: e.g., in a physiology course, discuss several internal organs in terms of how each fits into the larger system of the human body, or in a neuro-physiology course, begin with a black-and-white base diagram of the brain, and proceed by adding overlays or drawing details
  • problem-solving: e.g., in an engineering course, discuss structural faults in bridges and proceed to discuss remedies or ways of avoiding them
  • spatial: e.g., in a planning course, discuss planning strategies for different cities, proceeding in a logical geographical order

Once you've decided on the structure you're going to use, plan your:

  • Introduction (tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em)

    • aim for two minutes (out of a 50-minute lecture)
    • review the previous class if applicable
    • preview topics in your current presentation, and show an agenda
    • if possible, lead in with a catchy anecdote or example or even your
  • Body (tell 'em)

    • average adult attention span is 15-20 minutes: divide the body of your talk into 15-minute sub-topics
    • give each sub-topic a short introduction, conclusion, and transition into the next sub-topic
    • explain how each sub-topic fits into your overall agenda
    • vary the pace: for example, have question periods at the end of each sub-topic, or alternate 15-minute lectures with 15-minute interactive activities or audio-visual presentations
  • Conclusion (tell 'em what you told 'em)

    • aim for two minutes out of a 50-minute lecture
    • summarize your main points
    • have a memorable conclusion if possible and appropriate: a call for action or restatement of benefits for example
    • briefly preview your next class
    • give a clear assignment for next class, if applicable

teaching tipThis Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Preparing Your Presentation. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.