The Secrets of Preparation and Practice

Two Critical Ingredients for Lasting Impact

I’ve found there are three steps to delivering an effective speech. First is understanding the organization and audience so I can get to an interesting topic. Second is preparing the speech. Third is practice. Having done this for a long time, I’ve found these steps are critical in preparing and delivering a presentation with lasting impact. This post deals with how I prepare and, more importantly, how I practice.


Whenever I am asked to give a presentation, the conversation goes something like this, “We would like you to present to our group. Will you?”

I ask, “Do you have a topic in mind?”

To which they answer, “Not really. But here’s the theme of the meeting,” or “Here is the mission of our organization.”

I follow with five questions. These five questions critically determine how I craft the speech.

1. Tell me about the people who will be attending?
2. What are they interested in or struggling with?
3. Who were your past speakers?
4. What did they speak about?
5. Which of the topics were rated highly by your audience?

Then I say, “I’ll get back to you with the topic.”

“Don’t forget the bio and also a short teaser on the topic,” they respond. Then they give me the date all this is due.

Later, with my laptop open, I think through the following points.

1. Understand the Audience

I must understand the audience. After all, they are the most important people in the room and the reason for the meeting and speaker.

The broader the audience, the more difficult it is to think about them. Thankfully, most audiences are homogeneous. This is really helpful. As a speaker I am looking for some common ground. The more they have in common, the easier it is to think about what they may be struggling with. While picturing this audience, I ask myself, “What is the question that is on their mind?”

2. Ask the Right Question

If I get this right, I have high confidence I will have a winning presentation. Get it wrong and I have a stinker.

Before I was to speak to a room full of angel investors, I started thinking about questions they may have.

How do I get started in angel investing?
How do I evaluate an entrepreneur’s startup pitch?
How do I develop an angel investment thesis?
What terms should I look for in a deal?
What kinds of returns should I expect on my angel investment portfolio?
How do I decide on follow-on investments?

For this presentation, I settled on the question I would address: As an angel investor in our community for 24 years, how do I know a good potential investment when I see it?

3. Make the Answer Personal

Once I settled on the question, I needed the answer. I have learned through experience it is essential the answer be my own. If I start thinking about how others might answer the question, I am doomed and will have a presentation which isn’t mine. I may come to a good answer, but if it’s not mine, the audience won’t care.

They don’t want to hear what I read about or heard from someone else. They want the answer which comes from my experience.

4. Use Fewer Bullets for More Impact

I also have learned through observation and seminars, people love lists. As soon as a speaker says, “There are ten reasons,” or “…three big ideas,” or “…five warning signs,” the audience takes out their phones or flips open their notebooks and gets ready to write.

Given this experience, I make sure my answer always includes a list. And the list needs to be three, five, seven, ten, or twelve points. But I’ve also discovered this. More list items equals an easier, faster moving presentation for the speaker. Fewer list items equals higher retention and greater impact for the audience.

In my presentation to the angel investors, I settled on seven criteria for a potentially good investment. These criteria would be my answer to the question.

5. Give Your Stories Tension

We all like and remember a good story. As human beings, we connect to stories. Points…not so much. So each point needs to be explained two ways.

First, what the criteria means and why it is important.

Second, an example of how I applied this criteria in the past.

The stories have to be crisp, fun, and informative. It always helps if they have tension and some vulnerability.

7. Decide on the Introduction

I need a story right up front which connects me to the audience. A story which establishes my credibility and leads right into the question I am about to answer.

8. Close Strong with an Impact Story

I generally like a closing story which demonstrates what happened after I did what I am telling them to do. It will reinforce the answer, yet leave room for an even better answer that is out there for them.

9. Bring It All Together with Practice

I am there to serve this audience. They deserve my best, and I want to give them my best. The first time I present this talk should be alone in my office, not in front of a live audience.

Here is how I practice.

  1. Get quiet
  2. Picture the room
  3. See the audience
  4. Gauge my energy
  5. Be enthusiastic
  6. Display emotion
  7. Time myself—Respect the audience and their time

I hope this helps you in your preparation. Being asked to speak to someone’s group is an honor and should be treated with respect. I show this respect by investing my time, talent, and prayer. I know you’ll do the same. We all have so much to share.

You probably wonder where the powerpoints are created. I never use them. But that’s another article.

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