5 Questions to ask before you stand up and deliver a presentation

As a business owner you are your own best marketing tool. Presenting in public not only highlights your business, it also establishes your credibility, makes your listeners trust you (and people prefer to do business with those they trust) and generates leads.

But, even if you have a stunning presentation with fabulous visuals, you can still fail to connect if you are speaking to the wrong audience.

Advance planning will help you tailor your presentation to the audience who needs and wants to hear it; and they will be more receptive if you address their concerns and challenges and offer them a solution.

It’s never too soon to start planning. As soon as you are invited to speak at an event, ask yourself these 5 questions:

1. What is my intention with this presentation?

If you don’t know why you are speaking to this particular audience at this time, you could find yourself speaking into a vacuum. If you have no clear objective, you will also find it difficult to structure your presentation.

  • Do you want to inform them about your company, your product, the latest advances in your field?
  • Will you try to persuade them to change their point of view, take action, invest in your product?
  • Are you going to train them to use your product?
  • Are you speaking to market your company or product?

Whatever the occasion, you need to know why you are speaking and what you want the audience to do or believe at the end of your presentation. The easiest way to do that is to know who they are.

2. Who is my audience?

Find out as much as you can about them from the event organiser. They are usually happy to give you any information you need – they know your success as a presenter also contributes to their success.

One important question is – how much does the audience know about your field? If you are presenting technical information to a non-technical audience, you will need to use clear, simple language without coming across as patronising.

Don’t use jargon unless you are in the same area of business and know the jargon. Even then, keep it to a minimum.

Ask about their average age, especially if you intend to refer to anything time-sensitive. For example, a predominantly young audience probably don’t know much about life before the internet, and an older audience may not be familiar with all the latest advances in technology.

If it’s a mixed audience, however, it’s best to keep your remarks general or be prepared to briefly explain them. As soon as your audience starts wondering, their minds start wandering.

If you are speaking to a company, search the internet for information about them. Google them, look at their website, read their marketing materials as well as company newsletters and blogs.

Many small business owners speak at networking events. Again, the group may have a website or you may know someone who has spoken there before – ask them what were the highs and the lows, and is there any advice they can give you?

Gather as much information as you can about the audience and, on the day, you will feel as if you’re speaking to real people.

3. What type of event will you be presenting at?

Ask the organiser:

  • Is it formal or informal? It’s said that people make up their minds about us in the first seven seconds. Therefore, you need to know how to dress for the occasion.
  • Will they serve food and/or alcohol? If so, will you speak before or after a meal or coffee break? Hungry audiences have short attention spans – you need to keep them focussed; too full and they may feel tired – you will have to wake them up; and alcohol can affect their mood and inhibitions.
  • Will there be other speakers? This is especially important if you have a time limit – plan to finish before your allotted time is up to avoid eating into another speaker’s slot.

RELATED: Harnessing the power of body language to deliver captivating speeches and presentations

 4. Where will I present?

It’s a good idea to get as much information about the venue as you can from the organiser or, even better, pay them a visit. Find out:

What size is the room?

Be prepared to project your voice more in a larger space, so warm up your voice before the event and drink plenty of water (it’s also a good idea to make this a habit every time you speak). Also, in a large auditorium making eye contact with your audience is different from being in a small room where eye contact can be more intense.

How many attendees do they expect?

This connects with the room size. On the day, if you have a small number of people in a large space and they’re spread around the room, ask them to move to the front.

What is the room layout?

Will the audience sit theatre-style, boardroom-style, cabaret-style or, if your presentation is in a restaurant for example, at a long table? Once you find out the layout, ask where your speaking area will be. Is it at the front of the room, on a stage, or from your seat at the table?

You need to consider whether you will have enough space to move around, use props, give a demonstration, use a projector. And, if you are using props or giving a demonstration, will the audience, especially those at the back, be able to see clearly?

What equipment do you need?

Let the organiser know in advance, if you will need a table for your notes or props, a multiplug, a flip chart, a projector or anything else that’s necessary for your presentation – don’t assume they will be provided.

Some companies are security-conscious and don’t allow you to bring your own USB or laptop into the building, and may ask you, in advance, to send your presentation to them for uploading.

If you are speaking in a large space, you may need a microphone – ask if they intend to provide one or expect you to bring your own? If they provide one, ask if it’s lapel, on a stand, or handheld? If you have never used that particular type before, arrive early and practise, if you can.

RELATED: How to avoid death by PowerPoint – 9 Practical tips to captivate an audience with your presentation

5. Why do I need to prepare my presentation?

Once you know who your audience is, you will find it easier to construct your presentation. Prepare a solid structure with one major topic or idea supported by no more than three or four sub-topics.

Rehearse your presentation as many times as you can using your visual aids and props (if you are using them) – this is important not only to help it flow smoothly but also for timing. Try to rehearse before a live audience (friends or at a speaking club, for example) and ask for feedback.

You can also record yourself then watch the recording, noting any habits like flicking your hair or speaking to your slides and turning your back on the audience.

Recording yourself will also highlight speech fillers like ‘um’ or ‘ah’, or meaningless words and phrases such as ‘actually’ or ‘you know’. These unnecessary sounds not only interrupt the flow of your presentation but also can make you appear less confident.

RELATED: Harness the “Power of Three” to nail your pitch

At the event you are presenting at

On the day, arrive early and mingle. This will give you a chance to chat to individual members of the audience and pick up information or news that you can use.

Nothing gives a presentation more freshness and immediacy than referring to someone in the audience by name or highlighting a piece of (their) company news. Being relaxed and confident enough to ad lib create a connection between you and your listeners.

Even if you have done your research, prepared and rehearsed your presentation, things can still go wrong. For example, you arrive and find you are presenting in another room with a different layout; or another speaker runs over and you have less speaking time; perhaps the projector breaks down midway through your presentation and can’t be fixed.

Whatever happens, if you have done the groundwork, you will be able to take any disruptions in your stride and even work it into your presentation – if you can do this with humour, that’s even more impressive. Relax, forget yourself, focus on your audience and reap the rewards for your business.

About the author

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Moira Beaton is a Distinguished Toastmaster from Toastmasters International. Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of 15,400 clubs in 135 countries. There are more than 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7,500 members. Find your local club at: Toastmasters.org.uk

More help on delivering great presentations

For more help on presenting, pitching and public speaking, try these other practical ByteStart guides;

More on starting and running your own business

ByteStart is packed with help and tips on all aspects of starting and running a small business. Check out some of our most popular guides;

Starting Up

Leading a business

Funding your business

Tax & Accounts

Promoting your business

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