Presentations With Presence: How to Prepare Yourself and Inspire Your Audiences

Kim Ferenchak

As with most ventures in life, planning and preparation are the keys to effective outcomes. This is certainly true when it comes to presentations and speaking opportunities.

There are no shortcuts to be had when preparing for an effective, informative and memorable speech.

With the right prep, practice, and positive attitude, you will deliver an engaging presentation and build confidence for future opportunities.

How to Get Started & Create Your Basic Outline

First define your goal knowing who your audience will be. Is your goal to educate, inspire, entertain, or provoke thinking? Be sure to adapt your speech to your audience’s experience, education/knowledge, experience, etc.

Second, translate your goal into main ideas you would like your audience to remember.  Being mindful of time limitations, write an outline based on your main ideas. Each main idea should fit on one index card with 3-5 main points. Be sure your outline flows easily and logically before you complete it with supporting information.

Create a Detailed Outline & Write Your Speech

Following your outline, brainstorm your thoughts in bullet points. Next, write out entire sentences or phrases to support your bullet points. Be sure to edit along the way, always staying focused on your main ideas.

  • Write down each main idea on a notecard with the detailed outline and key phrases.
  • Master (do not memorize) the information on each notecard.
  • Recheck the flow of information, is it still logical?  Are all points essential and relevant to your main idea?  You may want to solicit the feedback of people who do not know the topic well to ensure it makes sense to someone who is not familiar with the material.
  • Highlight key phrase you know that you would like to articulate in the speech so they stand out to you.

Study Your Speech Before You Practice

Studying your speech is different than practicing your speech.

Read it out loud several times. Does it still flow? Could your sentences be shorter or clearer, could you use less words and be more effective?

Rewrite sentences and key phrases as you study, as your first version will not be your best. When you are satisfied with the flow, content, sentences and key phrases, finalize your notecards (or detailed outline if using paper).

Commit the highlighted phrases to memory. Committing key phrases to memory allows key points flow easily and will increase the likelihood your audience will remember them. Remember – do not memorize the speech as this will be evident in your delivery. Instead, solidly know your main points and key phrases.

Create Visual Aids

If applicable, create simple visuals aids. Often parts of the key phrases that you have memorized will appear, along with supporting information. Keep all visual aids simple and uncluttered. Less is more, and less words on a visual aid will be more impactful.

Pictures can be more memorable than words and can even replace words. Visual aids are meant to support the transfer of information to your audience, not replace the speaker. They can be used for support, but you should be able to deliver your speech without relying on the information on your slides.

Practice, Practice, Practice

It is essential to know your material – in and out – before you attempt to practice your speech.

Do not attempt to practice your speech without a solid knowledge of your outline and your key phrases as it will be defeating. Do not immediately begin practicing your speech in front of a mirror as it will be distracting.

Your first step is to not only master the material but be conscience of how impactful the rhythm of the speech, word emphasis and pauses become.  If used effectively, rhythm, word emphasis and pauses help your audience recall main ideas. Go back to your notecards and attempt to deliver your speech.

Expect it to be rough the first several times through. Be patient with yourself. You may need to go back to your complete sentences and amend your key phrases on your notecards. Underline words you want to emphasize and add forward slashes to help you to remember when to pause. Check your timing to be sure you are on target.

Master Your Speech

Once you have practiced the entire speech several times, break it down into sections and master each section before you move onto the next.

Be intentional when transitioning from one main idea (notecard/slide/section of a paper) to the next. If you are using slides (or notecards) the sections naturally follow your main ideas. When transitioning, it will be helpful to briefly review what you have covered and then tell the audience where you are going (i.e. now that we have covered…. we will now move onto….).

The idea is to tell themthen tell them what your told themthen tell them again. This helps your audience to summarize the information presented along the way.

Also, if the audience has become distracted it will create an opportunity for them to hear the information again. Summarizing and reviewing allow the audience to be prepared for the next section. If you get lost in your speech, reviewing what you have just covered can help you find your place. You can also glance at your notecards and the highlighted key phrases which will orient you.

Opening And Close

The opening and closing are more easily composed after you know your speech solid. Choose an approach you are comfortable with – it can be humorous, surprising, informative, or thought provoking. Your conclusion should summarize what you have covered – during your speech, you will tell them, then tell them what you told them and then tell them again in summary form at close.

Get Your Mind Right!

Along the way and especially the evening before your presentation and day of the presentation, embrace the power of positive thinking.

Envision your success, confident that you know your material, the audience and are well-practiced.  When delivering your speech, become comfortable with silence, it sounds far better than word fillers such as, “Umm, you know, in other words, so to speak,” etc.

Immediately before the speech find a quiet place where you can practice mindfulness, trusting that your preparation will fuel your success.  Remember you were selected to present because of two things: you are an expert on the topic and you are a good speaker.

During the speech avoid looking at members of the audience who are not listening or not engaged. Focus on members who are interested in your material and make eye contact with you. Do not look at members of the audience who are sleeping, on their phones or appear to be uninterested. Remember to look for visual cues that may indicate you are speaking too softly or quickly and adjust accordingly.

Build Confidence For The Future

With proper planning and preparation, anyone can be a great speaker. The steps outlined above appear to be a lot of work and initially they can be overwhelming.  As you prepare for and deliver more speeches you will find that you pass through some steps more quickly than others based on your individual strengths. With each speaking opportunity, you will more finely tune and define your personal style, building more confidence and presence.


About The Author:

Kimberly K. Ferenchak is Vice President and Practice Leader of Executive Risk at Oswald Companies. With specializations in management liability, professional liability, environmental liability and fidelity coverages, she combines her product and market knowledge to solve business challenges that arise daily. She advises clients in areas such as prudent corporate governance, mergers, acquisitions, and cyber liability, among other specialties.

In addition to her practice, Kim is a frequent speaker on her topics of expertise, including executive risk, cyber risk and liability, and more. She is a founding member of The Women’s Leadership Council at Oswald. The Council was created to inspire, engage, and advocate for Oswald Employee-Owners, in support of professional and personal development, and an inclusive environment that advances the success of women and the organization. Connect with Kim direct via email at kferenchak@oswaldcompanies.com.


The Oswald Women’s Leadership Council, developed in 2013 to inspire females at all levels to empower, develop and advance, has focused its 2016 education efforts around Professional Presence. Read earlier articles in this series by clicking below: