Once you know where you’re going, you can sit down and get busy with writing the presentation. Now this may sound strange, but you have to take some time to think about it before you start. One of the biggest problems that I find in consulting to companies, large and small is that people don’t take enough time to think. Our school system teaches activity. If you’re not DOING, you’re wasting time. This develops an attitude that unless our pens are furiously scribbling across the page we are being lazy. Thinking is not considered work.

Thinking, however is what is going to make the difference between success and failure in all aspects of life, not just public speaking.

Fit the talk to the group.

Now we need to know a little about the group that we will be addressing, to make the speech as successful as possible. This way we can target the speech to meet the specific needs of each group we speak to. We need to ask the person who has set up the meeting, conference or occasion for as much information on the group as possible. Obviously there will be times where you are not able to get the information that you want, or the group may be so diverse that there are no specific demographics that you can tailor towards. In that case, take the middle path, make changes as you need to.


This is particularly useful, as some subjects appeal more to younger people than to older and vice versa. The language and choice of words will change with different age groups. The examples that you will use to demonstrate your points will need to be age appropriate. The stories that you tell will need to be directed to the correct age group.

When you have completed the writing of your presentation, ask yourself, “Will this talk appeal to the age of the group I will be addressing?”


Male, female mixed? It’s helpful to know this in advance, for many of the same reasons that we want to know the age of the group. From experience, I have found single sex groups more difficult than mixed groups, so it pays to know how to handle these audiences.

All male groups tend to be louder and more aggressive than mixed groups. When there are women in the group, they serve to keep things more on the straight and narrow. The men behave better and do not challenge as much as in an all male group. If you are talking to an all male group, you may want to set boundaries as you start to prevent your speech being hijacked. For example, “Can I ask that we hold questions and comments until the end. We will have ten minutes to go through these at the end of the presentation.”


This is important, as it will help us to understand what opinions are held by the group. Are they ANC, PAC, DA aligned. Are they from a predominantly A, B or C income group? Are they from any one particular geographic area? All of these factors will tell us something about their opinions. These existing opinions allow us to target the presentation more directly towards the needs of the group. This way we know what they want…

What they want

Ask yourself the question, “What does the audience WANT to hear?” There may be times that you know what they want, but either need or want to present ideas that they WON’T like. That’s fine, as long as you know in advance what they want, what you want, and how you plan to meet these needs. Other than that, try as much as possible to give the audience what they want to hear. There is no sense in swimming upstream. If you are able to give them what they want, then do so.

Educational level

Grade school or Grad school. It makes a big difference in your choice of language, in your choice of examples and in making sure that you are pitching at the right level. An audience of university graduates is going to need a different approach to that of a group of matriculants. By knowing their educational level, you are for better able to push their hot buttons, and get through to them at their level.

Knowledge level

This is now different from the previous point. Here now we need to assess the knowledge and experiential level of the group. For example, if you are speaking on the subject of occupational safety to a group of occupational safety officers, you will need to assume that they have a very high level of experiential knowledge. In turn, you will need to elevate the level of your speech to be able to offer them take home value. You will have to find new and unique aspects on the subject to give them something that will not be pure repetition.

Group size

This is important because it affects the way that you will be doing the presentation. There are certain techniques that you can and can’t use, depending on the size of the group. If you have a group of more than about 30 people, don’t start off by inviting questions at any time. You rather need to leave questions until the end, and allow a set time for questions, otherwise you may have your speech taken away from you and derailed. With smaller groups, you can afford to take questions right through the presentation.


Fit the talk to the occasion.

Solemn, funny, motivating. This will be determined by the occasion. Ask the person who has asked you to speak, “What’s the occasion?” If you are told that the old well loved chairman of the company is retiring due to ill health, then you will need to have a much more serious approach. If it’s a bachelor party, the tone once again will need to change. The tone must fit the occasion for the speech to work.

I heard a really brilliant presentation on the World Trade Centre disaster on 9/11. The speaker’s tone was serious and solemn. He made no jokes, and no attempt at levity was made. This was very much in line with the subject, and was totally appropriate. To have brought in humour would have been extremely inappropriate. It was a brilliant presentation, made even more so by the intensity of the speaker.

Fit the talk to the time available.

As a professional speaker, this point is very close to my heart. I can’t tell you how many times I have been at a conference, meeting or event, and the meeting planner has come over to me and said, “Our earlier speaker was meant to speak for 90 minutes, but spoke for only 45. I’ve got a great big 45 minute hole in my programme. Can you perhaps stretch your 90 minute speech, and make it a two hours?”

Or even worse, you are due to start your speech at 9:30 and the meeting planner tells you that the speaker who is speaking right now was meant to have finished by 9:30, the time is now 9:55, and he’s still not finished, and he doesn’t know how long he’ll still be, but can you be sure to finish by 10:30 anyway. You have a one hour presentation that you have to fit into a time slot that is going to be half or maybe even less.

Negotiate the time.

When you are asked to speak, ask the organiser how long he or she wants you to speak. If you are asked to speak for an hour and you know that you only have material for a half hour then tell the person, and negotiate a time frame that you are both happy with.

The opposite is also true, and happens to me regularly. I’m asked to address a subject like stress management, and am allotted 45 minutes to do so. I decline immediately, and advise the person that I’m going to need a minimum of 90 minutes to do a proper job. If the person can’t fit in that into their programme, I advise that perhaps we can do it another time in the future, but not now, in 45 minutes. We spoke earlier about giving the audience take home value. To do this you need the right time frame to suit your material.

Don’t be bullied into a time slot that will not work for you. You will land up messing up the programme, or worse still, not doing the job you were asked to do.


Hook, body, close.

We now need to build an effective hook to start the presentation. Something that will get people to sit up and take notice. From there, the next step is to flesh out the body of the presentation, and then to close with something that will leave the audience thinking.


How to write.

The worst possible thing to do is to write out your talk, word for word. If you do this, you will almost certainly come to READ it when the big moment arrives. The only time that a speech should be written in full is if you are presenting a press release. Here you want it word for word, and you might want to have printed copies of the release available to give out. Other that that, you are better off preparing the talk in point form.


Script cards

At this point you can put all your points onto individual script cards. These are cards about 10 x 15 cm in size, which will become your speech “script.” There are two very good reasons why you should use cards as opposed to printing it out on paper. Firstly, if you are holding a sheet of paper while talking it tends to flap around and is very obvious and obtrusive. Secondly, and more importantly it allows you much more flexibility at the time of the speech. You may want to change the order of the presentation, delete material or even have some spare cards that you may want to add if the timing changes.


Now the presentation is written, tailored to the group, the occasion, the time frame and the objectives, and you are now ready to move ahead…

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