Four Steps to Presentation Success

What to think through before you start.

Jen Thorson 12.02.2014

Are you working on an important presentation? The key to success is thinking through these four things before you even open up a blank PowerPoint.

1. Determine your primary objective

Know what you want the outcome to be before you start, and structure your presentation or argument to build toward that. Is your primary objective to:

  • Share information?
  • Change opinions?
  • Get people to agree to your plan?
  • Act on it?

2. Who’s who?

If you didn’t invite the audience or call the meeting yourself, ask the host for specific information about who will be there. Find out if your audience will be:

  • Lateral peers (on your level/position), subordinate to you, higher-ups, or a mixed group
  • Are they decision-makers, influencers, or people affected but not in a position to influence or decide?

3. You = the least important audience

Make sure you write your presentation from the audience’s perspective, not yours. You’ll gain trust right away by demonstrating that you understand them. Ask yourself:

  • What do they already know about the subject or project?
  • Do they care? If they don’t, why should they?
  • Do they have preconceived ideas about the subject?

4. Work the room

How will people feel when they listen to you and where will the presentation be given? While this is unlikely to be in your control, you should know about it so you can adjust accordingly.

  • Will the audience read an advance copy?
  • Have they seen other presentations?
  • Do they have good sight lines?
  • Can they hear you?
  • Are they bored, tired, hungry, too hot, too cold?

You’ll need to adjust your presentation to fit the environment. Keeping your text short, flexible, and somewhat vague helps with this—you can decide to elaborate or not depending on your read of the room. (I once experienced a board member jutting his jaw up and down as I belabored a point as if to say “we got it Jen, move on.” I will not ever forget that.)

Bonus tip: Present like you mean it.

You are ready. Your slides are perfect, your argument sound, your graphics engaging, and use of humor perfectly tuned to your organization’s culture. Here are some tips for presenting like the professional you are.

  • You are the expert. Project that by standing just to the side of your screen, even slightly in front of it. They’ll have to look at you that way.
  • Try to avoid sitting around a table while you present. If you do, your audience will likely stare at the screen the whole time you’re talking, even if there’s only one word on it.
  • Arrive early and set up your presentation and run through it. Make sure everything works. Don’t let the technology distract people from you. Use a remote to advance.
  • Don’t read the screen! Your slides are your outline, there just to remind you of what you plan to say next.
Jen Thorson is a nonprofit marketing executive, speaker, blogger, and advocate. She blogs at,, and

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