Step-by-Step – The Five “W”s

The keys to planning an effective presentation

Preparation is the perfect way to minimize nervousness and maximize confidence before a presentation. To prepare thoroughly, think in terms of the five W’s: why, who, where, when and what.

Why am I speaking?

What is your objective in this presentation? Is it to inform, persuade, motivate or explain? Are you selling a product, promoting an idea, sharing financial results, appealing to investors or training your staff? Although many professional techniques apply to every kind of presentation, the style of presenting may vary according to your purpose. Ask yourself how you will judge the success of your presentation. Do you need audience members to order a product, get excited about a proposal or acquire a skill? In other words, what is your goal in this presentation?

Who is my audience?

Ideally, your presentation should be customized to the needs of your audience members. At an individual level, each attendee has his or her own interests, values and expectations; at a group level, they are all present for a purpose, which you must fulfill. Tailor your presentation to meet their specific needs.

If you are speaking to an internal audience from your own company, you may already know the audience members. Nevertheless, check in advance who will be attending.

If you are speaking to an unknown audience, try to find out as much information as possible in order to build a strong audience profile. Take into account who will be attending in terms of gender, age, rank, profession, background, and cultural background. Such information will provide you with valuable insights to personalize your presentation, and make it less generic. Audience members can tell when you have taken the time and trouble to do so, as opposed to delivering a standard presentation with no specific effort to connect with them as human beings. Value the opportunity to make a memorable impression on your audience, at a personal and professional level.

Filling out the following audience profile will help you get started:

  • What are the demographics (age, education, position, profession, culture, background) of your audience?
  • What level of knowledge do they have about your topic?
  • Who are the decision-makers?
  • What are the key points you would like them to understand?
  • What questions might they raise?
  • Do they have any known objections to your proposal?
  • What specific action would you like to see as a result of your presentation?

Where will I speak?

If possible, take some time to visit the location where you will be delivering your presentation. Examine the physical location and look out for any set-up issues. Check the location of electrical sockets and bring along your own extension cords, if necessary. Check and recheck all equipment beforehand. Decide whether you will need a microphone and practice using it if you are unfamiliar with doing so.

If you are traveling to the presentations site, carry your computer, presentations material and one set of handouts with you. Your baggage could be delayed or lost. In addition, send a copy of all your materials to yourself by email. If worst comes to worst, you can make copies of your handouts locally, but at least you will have them available.

When will I speak?

Before lunch, after lunch and at the end of the day are times when people are most distracted by their own physical needs. Before lunch, they are hungry; after lunch, they are full; at the end of the day, they are tired! You will need to use more interest elements to involve the audience at these times or else your audience members will be snoring!

Don’t take it personally, but do take the reality into account in a proactive way. Perhaps you can plan a more interactive session or allow participants to ask questions during your presentation. If you are scheduled to speak after other speakers, find out who they are and what they will be speaking about. If your presentation is long, or if you are going to speak after many other speakers, you need to utilize strong verbal or body language techniques to help you stand out from the crowd.

What is my message?

Having analyzed the audience, make sure you adapt the goal of your presentation to their special needs. The presentation you gave to the general manager of a company may not be the same as you need to give the technical staff. They are different people, with different backgrounds and different expectations. Even if you cannot change your visual information, you can always customize your verbal message for greater effectiveness.