How do you put together a great presentation?  Here I’m presenting a series of 7 blog posts on the basic building blocks of a killer speech.  And no, for the pedants among my readers, I’m not very interested in the false distinction some maintain between a presentation and a speech.  Whether you’re talking to a few people, or a few thousand, it’s important and worth doing right.  And the same rules apply.

So here goes.  What should you think about first?

The audience is the place to start.  Do your research.  If you can’t find the information you need online, ask people who will know.

You may already know a great deal about your audience, or it may be completely new to you.  The bottom line is that you’re not ready to speak – or create a speech – until you have a good sense of the particular audience you’re addressing.  What are their fears, their hopes, their immediate concerns?  What help do they need?  Who has spoken to them recently?  What are their expectations of you or your speech, based on what else they’ve heard and seen?  Is there a way to break those expectations – creatively?

Ask yourself, what is the problem that the audience has for which my insights, expertise, or story is the answer?

Once you have a good sense of the audience, think about all the practical considerations.  How many people are you speaking to?  What time of day will the presentation take place?  Is the audience tired, energized, overwhelmed, or starved for information?  Are they sitting on hard chairs?  Have they just had lunch?

The more you know about the particular situation you’re speaking to, the better you can tailor your remarks to match the audience’s moment, mood, and mode.  If you’re talking to a group of engineers, or a group of marketers, or a group of children, different approaches might suggest themselves.  If the group always has 5 slides, no more, by some ancient, ironclad rule, then it’s good to know that before you present your usual deck of 370 slides.

One of the hardest speech assignments is to present late in the day after a full day of talks.  The audience is brain dead and yet another PowerPoint deck of bullets just won’t bring it to life.  You need to think about other approaches.  But unless you know details like this, you won’t be able to prepare in advance for your particular challenge.

So gather your details, do your research and understand your audience and the particular of your assignment.  Once you know all that, you’re ready to start creating the talk – the subject of blog post #2.




  1. I absolutely agree on the part that says a presentation or a speech are the same thing, either for a 15 person audience, or for a 1.500 one.

  2. So right on, Nick. Having seen hundreds of horrible presentations out in the corporate world, the common thread of all of them is the overwhelming “me-ness” and total lack of “you-ness”. Can’t wait to read the rest of the series!

  3. Nick, looking forward to the magnificent 7!

    Your focus on the audience first is a great reminder for those of us who speak regularly and good advice for those developing the skills. Spot on with concentrating on things like the time of the day, past speakers, etc. So often it’s all about the speaker, but focusing on the needs and concerns of the audience is vital. We all listen to WII.FM and your reminder is worth taking to heart for the next speech or “presentation” we are making. I also agree with your comment on an audience of 5 or 1000’s, I can never understand why people don’t always rehearse well for all presentations. People say when I get the keynote, or when I get the conference then I will work on it. But it’s the hours over years doing your best in small presentations that your best gets better for the big occasion. Thanks – can’t wait for the rest!

    1. Thanks, Peter, for your great comments and reminder about the importance of preparing properly regardless of the size of the audience. It’s something I feel strongly about!

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