How To Give A Great Presentation (Seriously)

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You’re doing it wrong.

People hate it when someone says, "you’re doing it wrong," but trust me… you’re doing it wrong when it comes to how you prepare for a public speech. I’m sure this will upset many people, but let’s walk through the typical scenario of how someone is asked to speak and what happens next:

  • Step 1: someone gets asked to present on a specific topic.
  • Step 2: the presenter agrees to present.
  • Step 3: the presenter puts it in the back of their mind that they must prepare for this event, but because speaking in public is so nerve-wracking, they put it off for the last possible moment.
  • Step 4: in the week leading up to the presentation, the speaker starts writing down notes and building a PowerPoint deck. It could be more severe than this. Sometimes they write up the speech that they are going to read to the audience (please don’t do this).
  • Step 5: a day or two (but mostly likely, the night before), the speaker runs through the slides and (if they’re really keeners) will practice it formally in front of a mirror a few times.
  • Step 6: they deliver their presentation to an unsuspecting crowd.

Sound familiar?

This is, without question, the worst way to ever give a public presentation, and yet this is how the vast majority do it. Why? Because the first time that the speaker is ever going to give this presentation will be the most important time and – possibly – the last time as well. Ultimately, you are taking this material for a test drive when, in fact, that audience is the grand prix. When you are asked to present, the material should already have been road tested, tweaked and perfected (as much as possible). It sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? Well, that’s the point. Most presentations suck because the presenter didn’t put in the work. Trust me, as much as you may like U2, you do not want to be there when they first try out a song together for the first time. It takes a lot of work to get that song to the point when it is ready for an album or live show.

This is how to really prepare for a public speech:

  • Step 1: someone gets asked to present on a specific topic.
  • Step 2: don’t agree to speak unless you have enough time to prepare and test the content out live in front of a few real audiences (this can be a simple lunch and learn at your office, joining your local Toastmasters or asking some friends to endure it over some beer and pizza).
  • Step 3: don’t agree to the topic that is being requested. Let the people who are asking know that you will get back to them in 48 hours with some thoughts on what the topic should be.
  • Step 4: spend the next day thinking about what you would like to present and how it will come together. Jot down some simple notes and top line thoughts on the subject.
  • Step 5: get confirmation and finalize the speaking topic – to your satisfaction – with the event organizers.
  • Step 6: build a plan. Work backwards from the date and create a calendar for when you will prepare your content, rehearse your content, present it to your colleagues and then, ultimately, the event.
  • Step 7: build an outline for your presentation. If you have never done this before, check out the work of Nancy Duarte, Nick Morgan and Garr Reynolds. All three of these presentation masters have tons of free content on how to structure a solid presentation.
  • Step 8: build your presentation. Have no more than three areas of focus.
  • Step 9: enlist some help. If you don’t think that your presentation skills are up to snuff, please get some help. Again, Toastmasters is great, a local presentation skills coach or even a local stand-up comedian can best help you massage the content and build proper presentation skills. You will be amazed at what you can learn in just a couple of hours.
  • Step 10: rehearse on your own.
  • Step 11: rehearse in front of the smaller audiences.
  • Step 12: ask them for candid feedback.
  • Step 13: integrate the feedback that makes sense.
  • Step 14: rehearse in front of another smaller audience.
  • Step 15: ask them for candid feedback.
  • Step 16: integrate the feedback that makes sense.
  • Step 17: ask one of your presentation coaches for their feedback once you have integrated everything from all of your test-run speeches.
  • Step 18: integrate your coach’s feedback.
  • Step 19: practice some more on your own, and watch speakers that you would consider to be great (YouTube is amazing for this). Think about what they’re doing that wins you over. Try to integrate those lessons into your own presentations.
  • Step 20: step away from the content for a few days.
  • Step 21: step back in and keep practicing.
  • Step 22: present at the event… and knock ’em alive!

Sounds like a lot of hard work, doesn’t it?

It is. The great public speakers make it look easy. It feels like they’re presenting the content for the very first time. The truth is that most of them have practiced and road-tested their material for a while. They are constantly nurturing, tweaking and optimizing it. They look comfortable, because they are comfortable and familiar with the content. There may be some content pieces that are brand new, but it is usually an iterative process. Sadly, most presenters are so unprepared that their only goal is to either get to the end of their slides in their allotted time or read their pre-written speech from the podium without wetting their pants. What most presenters fail to realize is that nobody cares about you getting to the end of your slides or if you survived reading a document in public. People are in the audience for two (main reasons):

  1. To learn.
  2. To be entertained while learning.

No matter how serious the event is, people don’t want to be sitting all day and be bored listening to people reading from slides or reading from their printed out Word document. So, the next time you’re asked to present, don’t just say "yes," unless you’re willing to commit the serious time, effort and energy to do it right. Why? Because if you don’t take it seriously, you’re just perpetuating a world where all of us have to endure another slew of painful meetings and presentations.

Who wants that? 


  1. Hi Mitch.
    This is really good advice and exactly why I present very, very rarely. I won’t get up in front of a crowd unless I had a “song / presentation” fully rehearsed. Having played in bands, I’m not getting on that stage until we are tight.
    Since I have invested minimal or no time into building a good presentation, I’m not even going to bother. I’m happy to watch people like you do this well.
    Maybe one day I’ll be ready to perform but it’s not going to happen until I’m ready with a few good songs.
    Thanks man.

  2. Mitch,
    Excellent advice. Not many people are willing to prepare to the extent you suggest. If they did, we’d see presentations with better context. Too many presentations fall short because the main point is lost due to lack of context, leaving the audience wondering what was the intended main point?
    – Bernie

  3. The need to be good snaps into focus when you calculate the value of everybody’s time that you’re wasting with a lousy presentation.

  4. The need to be good snaps into focus when you calculate the value of everybody’s time that you’re wasting with a lousy presentation.

  5. I’m in the PR program at the Mediaplex in Windsor, On. Guilty of how not to do a presentation. Thanks for the great advice. I will keep this in mind.

  6. I’ve given a hand full of presentations. Far from a seasoned pro. They first started with sentences on every slide. I’m sure it was hard on the eyes and a big distraction.
    Slowly I moved to just photos and a focus on the story. When it comes to content, this change alone has made a huge difference.
    Mitch, I learned this from your talks with Peter Coughter (I even fired up Amazon and bought the book).
    Priceless advice from you both. Thank you!

  7. All of these look like good suggestions. But what’s a keener ? Step 5: and (if they’re really keeners) will practice it .
    I’m guessing you meant keeper. But in a post about taking presentations seriously, I would think you could have worked harder in your written presentation to avoid spelling errors. Maybe ask one of those audeince members to proof read for you.

  8. Actually David, it is the word I meant. You can learn more about it right here:
    In the time it took you to be insulting, you could have simply “Googled” it.
    There will be grammar and spelling mistakes on this blog. It happens. I’m human. I’m grateful for the kindness of people who leave helpful comments or send me a private email about it. If you can’t get over the occasional spelling or grammar error in a blog post for the overall content that it provides, I’m not sure that my blog is the place for you.
    Also, I think you meant the word “audience” in your comment (you spelled that word wrong). There is no need for a space after a word then a question mark. Sentences shouldn’t start with “But,” you should just put a comma there (you do that twice). There are a couple of other basic grammatical errors in your comment, but I got the point just fine.
    People in glass houses, and all…

  9. Hi Bernie,
    I think that many speakers aren’t really sure what their own main points are, which makes it very tough for audiences! Hopefully they follow Mitch’s tips.
    Hi Mitch,
    That is a great article, full of useful advice. Whilst Nancy Duarte suggests that a top-notch one hour presentation requires 30 hours crafting the story, 30 hours building the slides and 30 hours rehearsing, many speakers (obviously) do not put this much work into their presentations. This is a shame because it squanders so much potential value for audiences and speakers alike.
    So thanks for showing the path to better talks..! As you’ve demonstrated with your speaking career, the rewards are lucrative, but it takes a huge upfront investment.
    By the way, I love your suggestions, especially watching others speakers’ YouTube reels and having a speaking coach.
    — Adam

  10. Unless I missed it and it was implicit in one of these steps, shouldn’t one of the very first steps be to research and ask questions about the audience? Who are they? What do they know about the topic? What are their expectations and possible doubts and misperceptions? What do they want? What’s the context for the speech?
    This lays out the incredible amount of work and preparation required to create a great presentation, but won’t getting to understand the audience’s needs and concerns help focus the topic and content and make it ultimately more relevant to their interests?

  11. There are two sides to this. Of course, it’s great to have all of those questions answered. There are also speakers (like myself) who are called because of their expertise and it’s all about giving that, specific, content to their audience.
    All of that to say, you’re 100% correct… so, bring on more work πŸ™‚

  12. I aspire to Mitch’s skill in dispatching David’s comment with aplomb. As a fellow Canadian, I understood Mitch’s use of the word ‘keeners’. Good on him for using the local dialect!
    John – I don’t think I should thank you or encourage you for creating that ‘Twist-ed Image’ of Mitch πŸ™‚

  13. Hi Mitch, these are excellent tips. Early this year i gave a presentation for the first time in my life. This was official and I’d literally done the same what you have mentioned it wrong at the beginning of this article. Anyways, thanx for your advice. Next time I’ll try my best to follow your tips. Cheers!!!

  14. Notice how David couldn’t even check Google for a possible meaning, whereas Mitch proceeds to fully lay out all the grammatical/stylistic issues with David’s post quite clearly.
    Imagine, David, how ridiculous you would have sounded to a casual reader such as myself who is intimately familiar with the slang word keener. You’d come off as someone with a vendetta against Mitch. Now whyever would you carry something like that?
    (Before you eagerly indulge in your need to feel superior by pointing out what you believe to be typos, “whyever” is intentional.)

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