Over the past few years, I’ve been spending a bigger portion of my time either presenting or listening to presentations. The topics of these presentations are different and no single style of presentation is best for all contexts, audiences, and environments. That said, I have learned a few tips that have personally helped me plan how to communicate better.

When you think of a presentation, you’re probably thinking of a PowerPoint-style presentation. For the most part, that’s true across the industry. Whether you’re presenting to a room, writing a document, or verbally communicating your ideas in a meeting, you’re presenting.

When I’m preparing a presentation, I generally start on a piece of paper. This allows me to ignore the visuals of my presentation and focus on the actual message and content I am trying to convey.

As I prepare the outline, I ask myself a few important questions about what I am trying to communicate, to who, and why. Based on the answers to these questions, I create a real outline of what I want to talk about and then how I am going to talk about it.

Sometimes, even if you end up presenting the same exact presentation twice, asking these questions again, especially around your audience, might be helpful to help you alter your presentation specifically to your desired audience.

What are you trying to communicate?

This is probably the most important one. What are you trying to communicate? This isn’t the title of your presentation, it’s the elevator pitch of why your presentation is important. What message are you trying to send to your audience? In other words, if whomever listened to you leaves the room, how do they share your 1-hour or 30-minute presentation to someone else who wasn’t in the room and in 60 seconds?

I usually limit this to a paragraph or two. The more I am writing, the less clear my message is at the moment. Refining this on a piece of paper allows me to distill my ideas into its core basics and helps me re-articulate the meaning of my content.

Who are you trying to communicate to?

Know your audience. The same exact presentation could and should be tweaked depending on the type of people that will listen to it. I generally treat a presentation like a design project and start with the persona.

For example, presenting about design review differs if you’re talking to the engineering team, the product management team, or the design team. Talking about the same topic or trying to communicate the same message does not mean you will be able to use the same language.

One of the strongest elements of presentation is its ability to reach to the audience in their own context and environment.

Think of who you need to deliver the message to, what do they care about, and the “language” they speak. Take a mile in their shoes to understand what will resonate with them. Don’t change your message, change how you deliver it.

Why are you communicating to them?

Now that you know and have written down what you want to communicate and who you’re communicating to, you’ll need to deeply understand why you’re there to begin with.

Rule one of every work presentation I give is: share the conclusion first. If you’re asking for something, be upfront about it. If you’re sharing an update, start with it. If you’re presenting a new idea, share it first.

In conference presentations, people lead you towards an idea or a thought. They have an advantage you generally don’t have, they hold the stage for the time allocated with no questions.

When you’re sitting in a work meeting, the longer you’re leading people towards a thought without mentioning that thought, the less attention they’re paying throughout. Once you get to your point, you’re depending on them to remember the information you’ve mentioned.

To know the conclusion, you’ll need to know what are you communicating, who are you communicating to, and why do you want to communicate this to them. The why is as essential to the conclusion as the message itself.

Sometimes, the why is simply about awareness. Other times, it’s about asking for funding, resourcing, or support. It could be about asking them to change the way they’re working, try something new they don’t feel comfortable trying, or to help you move an idea forward.

Why you’re communicating a particular message to a particular message is at the essence of most of your presentation. It’s what will help you write most of its outline.

Why does it matter?

Alright, you now know what you’re communicating, who you’re communicating to, and why.

Why does your message matter?

What does it mean to go along with your ask, and more importantly, what does it mean to not go forward with your ask? What’s the risk and what’s the reward?

Evaluating why someone should take your suggestion up is one thing, evaluating what happens if they don’t is another lens to look at. Part of it is sharing the risk-reward angles to the conversation. Another part is demonstrating your deep understanding of the topic and the research you’ve done to get here.

How you format your presentation to share this information is a post for another day, maybe soon!