Getting ready to present: Tips to get started

Gain experience speaking in public in low-risk situations, such as the Let's Talk Group at the Student Learning Commons or a Toastmasters club.

First, develop the content, outline, and organization as you would a research paper (see Start Your Research Here). After you have your content, you can focus on technique, style, and delivery.

Identify your specific purpose and approach:

  • Analyze the audience.  Some questions include:
  • What is the audience’s knowledge base?  Do I need to define key terms or will everyone in the class know them?
  • What might make the presentation interesting to this audience?
    • Anecdotes? Visual aids? Statistics? Examples?

The opening

Prepare this only after forming and organizing your ideas in the body of the presentation.

Devise a strong opening that gets the audience involved. Use a dramatic story, a quote, a question, an anecdote, etc.

State the purpose or thesis of the presentation.

Preview your main points.

To command attention, in the first few seconds, survey the audience with your eyes and make eye contact with as many people as possible. Be natural.

The body

Streamline your topic to address only a few main points. Elaborate each point but avoid excessive details.

Organize your presentation in a logical sequence:

  • Chronologically
  • By components
  • By pros and cons, etc.

Signal transitions between major points and between speakers in a group presentation, e.g.,  words like first, second; On the other hand; Now Tim will… etc.

Ask the audience rhetorical questions throughout to maintain interest.

The conclusion

Restate the purpose/thesis and summarize the main points.

End with strength by sharing an insight, anecdote, inspiring quote, etc.

Practice and preparation tips

Don’t write out or memorize the whole presentation. Instead:

  • Focus on learning the flow of ideas rather than exact wording.
  • Memorize small parts of the presentation (e.g.,  first sentence or a quotation) for effect, or possibly the outline of your presentation.

To help you stay on track, list main points on a flipchart, computer slides, and transparencies, numbered index cards, an outline, or a concept map (see Concept Mapping from University of Guelph).

Practice the entire presentation in a loud voice, varying your wording, several times, including in front of a friend for feedback.

Keep going over the presentation in your daily life – in the shower, car etc.

Know your time limit and time yourself, leaving some time for questions.

Anticipate questions and prepare their answers.

Familiarize yourself with the room setup and the available technology BEFORE your presentation.

Speaking techniques

Maintain eye contact and speak directly to the audience

Speak loudly, slowly, and clearly.

Use gestures and vary the volume and tone of your voice for emphasis.

Move towards your audience, especially in the opening & conclusion.

Always finish on time – be prepared to remove material to do so. 

Effective use of computer slides


Use a large font (at least 32 point).

Use 3-5 bulleted points per slide.

Provide basic points and fill in orally.

Use colours that make the text easy to read.

Make charts or diagrams easy to see.

Make transparencies for backup.


Use a distracting background or too much animation.

Clutter slides with a lot of text.

Write complete sentences on slides.

Read the slides to your audience.

Speak to the screen.

Computer slides, if used effectively:

Look professional;

Keep you on track and reduce the need for memorization or notes;

Provide an easy link to a web site, video or demonstration;

Capture attention of visual learners;

Increase the audience’s retention of your presentation.

After the presentation

Distribute handouts or refer to a web site where you have posted material.

Seek constructive feedback for future presentations.

If possible, record your presentation and review it later.

Make notes for yourself on what you liked about your experience and what you could improve on. Refer to these notes next time you are giving a presentation.


Guffey, M., Rhodes, K.,  & Rogin, P. (2005).  Business communication: Process and product (4th Canadian ed.).USA: Nelson Education. Toastmasters: