leadership development

Leadership Development Demands Making Better Presentations

As your career begins to take off, you will undoubtedly be asked to deliver more presentations. An important step in your leadership development is to become more effective when presented with those opportunities. Listed below are 5 important factors you should focus on.

Know your subject

This seems obvious, you wouldn’t be asked to speak on a subject that you were not somewhat of an expert on. While that is true, there is always more to learn. Current data or other relevant facts from reputable sources that can either confirm what you already know or add to your pool of knowledge. Research is the key here. What may be new in the industry? This includes information about customers as well as competitors. Are there other sources, that have weighed in on your topic.

While you can certainly get caught up in paralysis by analysis, I suggest finding a minimum of three credible sources to obtain current insight. These can be articles or even blogs. They can be interviews with customers or others with firs hand knowledge of your subject. Getting other perspectives BEFORE you write out your presentation is the point.

Know your audience

Who you are presenting to will help you determine the content. It will also help you determine the language you would be using. For instance, if your presentation is to the board of directors, you may use words that would be completely different than if your presentation is being made to the front line staff. How you dress for the presentation will probably differ as well.

In addition the focus of the topic may alter completely. Imagine the differences in the content you would provide to the financial department as opposed to the sales or marketing staff.

Develop your presentation with the time allotment you have been provided

Say you tells you he/she want you to deliver a 15 minute presentation on a subject. How do you go about determining what to say and when to say it. 15 minutes goes by a lot faster than most people think. I have seen several “experts” who feel as though they do not need to prepare written remarks, because they know the material in depth. Most of the time, they get about two thirds of the way through their presentation when their time is up. Then they either go long, or rush through crucial points they are hoping to make.

Do you know how fast you speak? Have you actually timed yourself? Do you know how many words per minute in your normal delivery? What about when you are nervous? A good rule of thumb is to estimate approximately 150 words per minute. This pace will provide you with a nice cadence and room to pause as necessary for impact. It is also a nice pace for the listener to be able to comprehend what it is that you have said. Simple math tells you that a 15-minute talk will require approximately 2,250 words.

Write it out!

I always start with an outline. It is a simple document that allows me to insure I have all of the key points I want to make. It also allows me visually see those points as I put them in the order I want to cover them. When the outline looks good, I then take time to write out the speech. Knowing I need approximately 2,250 words to fill my 15 minutes, I write using a word processing program that keeps track of this for me.


With my speech now written out, I would then simply read it, out loud, while timing myself. I read it out loud for a few reasons:

  • Hear the cadence and determine the speed in which I want to deliver it
  • Listen to the flow of the language, reading out loud highlights words that simply do not sound good together.
  • Having the words come off my lips helps reinforce my comprehension

I will typically read and edit what I have written about three times, When I feel it is right, I throw away the written speech. This is an important step! Yes, it is symbolic, I am telling myself, I do not need this crutch. I have the content, and understand the timing.

The next step is to start practicing the speech, again out loud. I will give my speech to anything that is listening, my cat is usually the first audience. I pick my cat, because he is pretty non-judgmental. Sure, he is a cat, and could care less, but he won’t complain or tell me the speech sucks. The next step is to find a series of humans.

First, pick people who love you. They will listen and probably provide some comforting feedback. Graduate to folks with a more casual relationship, and read their body language. Are they understanding what you are saying, and how you are saying it. All of this practice will help insure you will be able to deliver the speech you want to deliver.

One Final Prep Step

Once I know I have the speech down and the delivery, I take one more step. I go back and re-write my outline. This time however, I hand write it on 3×5 index cards. Again, this is purposeful. Hand writing imprints the message even deeper in my brain. I use index cards because they fit in my back pocket. These are my safety net. I will never use them during the speech, but know I have them. The speech is in my back pocket!

In a future article, we will detail how to eliminate the nerves. How to prepare yourself before the big event, and tips on how you can own the room!

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