Tips for Effective Presentation Planning

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Talk Like TED" by Carmine Gallo. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the best way to approach presentation planning? Should you prepare a script? Rehearse in front of an audience?

Effective presentation planning is more than just preparing what you are going to say. To make the most impact, you should also play your verbal delivery (how you say the words you’ve prepared), body language, and hand gestures.

Keep reading for tips on effective presentation planning.

Tips for Effective Presentation Planning

Effective presentation planning involves working out exactly how you want your speech to unfold—for example, the points you want to make and the supporting evidence you want to use. Your talk is much more likely to run smoothly if you have a clear idea of what you want to say, rather than having to make your points up as you go along. 

You could use a message map as a planning tool. A message map is a one-page summary of everything you want to include in your talk. Creating a message map involves three steps:

Step 1: At the top of a sheet of paper, draw an oval. In the oval, write a short “headline” that summarizes the main point of your talk—the message that you most want your audience to remember. Be as concise as possible (Gallo advises keeping the headline below 140 characters). For instance, a short and simple headline might be “Buying Our Product Will Improve Your Life.”

Step 2: Next, draw three arrows pointing down from the oval. At the end of each arrow, write a sub-point that will support your overall argument. For example, if your overall argument is that buying your product will benefit customers, write three reasons why this is the case. Don’t include any more than three sub-points—this would break the Rule of Three discussed in Chapter 7. 

Step 3: Below each sub-point, write all of the supporting material you’re going to include when discussing it. For example, are you going to tell a story that proves your sub-point is valid? Are you going to include a humorous anecdote in this section of the speech or incorporate a shocking moment? 

Remember, you’re trying to keep your plan to one page, so don’t feel the need to write stories or anecdotes out in full. Summarize them in just a few key words that will remind you what you want to say.

After completing the three steps, your message map should look something like this:

Practice Again and Again

Once you’ve finished planning your presentation, practice it again and again. If you don’t rehearse before you speak, you won’t know your talk’s structure or content very well. As you present, you’ll spend all of your mental energy contemplating logistical issues such as when to move on to the next slide and what’s actually on the next slide. Consequently, you won’t have the focus required to state your ideas clearly and smoothly. 

You might think that the most important element of presentation planning is memorizing its content. This is undoubtedly important—you don’t want to get up on stage only to find that you can’t remember what you’re supposed to be talking about. But effective presentation planning requires more than just preparing what you are going to say. There are three other things you need to practice as well. These are:

  1. Verbal delivery
  2. Confident body language
  3. Hand gestures

Verbal Delivery

Verbal delivery is how you say the words you’ve prepared. It involves many factors, such as how loudly you speak, the pitch of your speech, and how often you pause between points. 

However, Gallo focuses on the one element of verbal delivery that he believes is crucial to success: the speed of your speech. Speak too quickly, and people will struggle to understand what you’re saying. Speak too slowly, and your audience will swiftly become bored. 

So, what speed is “just right”? After analyzing many TED talks, Gallo has concluded that the optimal rate of speech when giving a talk is around 190 words per minute. He argues that this is a conversational speed—for instance, the speed of speech you’d adopt if you were talking to a friend about your favorite TV show. Therefore, it’s a rate of speech that seems both natural and authentic. 

An Exception to the Rule

There are some exceptions to this 190-words-per-minute rule. For instance, it’s acceptable to vary the speed of your speech to reflect the tone or content of what you’re saying. For example, when photographer Lisa Kristine gave a TED talk on modern slavery in 2012, she slowed down her rate of speech when she made the important point that despite slavery being illegal worldwide, it still exists almost everywhere. Making this point slowly added emphasis and gravitas to Kristine’s words. 

Meanwhile, when Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor gave a 2013 TEDxYouth talk on how the brain changes throughout puberty, her speech reached the rate of 220 words per minute. She decided to speak this quickly to emphasize the swift nature of the brain’s transformation at this time of life.

Confident Body Language

Rehearse holding your body in a way that suggests you’re sure of yourself and your opinions. If you fail to appear confident in your convictions, your audience will trust you and your opinions less. After all, why would they believe or agree with what you’re saying if you don’t seem certain of it yourself?

There are a number of things you can do to exude confidence through body language:

  1. Stand up straight—don’t slouch.
  2. Hold your head up high, rather than looking downwards.
  3. Make frequent eye contact with the audience.
  4. Resist the urge to fidget—for instance, play with your hair or scratch your nose. 

If you’re not sure which of these confident actions you’re taking already and which you aren’t, video yourself making a speech. Then, watch the video and identify where your problem areas lie. 

Fake It ‘Till You Make It

If you’re already feeling confident about your speech or presentation, confident body language will likely come naturally. However, if you’re feeling nervous or insecure, you may doubt your ability to hold your body in a way that’s contradictory to your emotions. 

If you’re in the latter situation, don’t be afraid to “fake it ‘till you make it.” In other words, keep practicing confident body language no matter how insecure you actually feel. Studies have shown that doing so can actually make you feel more confident. Standing in a confident position increases your levels of testosterone —a hormone which, amongst other functions, increases your confidence—while simultaneously reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. 

Researchers claim the so-called “power pose” is particularly effective at boosting confidence levels. This involves stretching your arms as wide as possible for two minutes.

Hand Gestures

As you speak, don’t simply hide your hands in your pockets. Instead, use gestures to add emphasis to what you’re saying. For example, if you’re talking about how much a problem has grown in size, create a small circle with your hands and expand it. If you want to emphasize that you’ve personally experienced this problem, point at yourself. 

Using hand gestures has a number of benefits: 

  • It prevents you from using your hands to fidget, thus helping you to exude confidence. 
  • Movement of any kind—including hand movement—makes you more interesting to watch, and therefore grips your audience’s attention.
  • Studies have shown that making hand gestures will increase the audience’s confidence in you and what you’re saying.
Four Tips for Using Hand Gestures

Tip #1: Don’t use gestures too often. They’ll lose their impact and may become overly distracting. Only use gestures to punctuate crucial points of your presentation—for example, your main argument, or the conclusion of a story you’re telling. 

Tip #2: Only use gestures that feel comfortable and natural to you. In particular, don’t try to mimic another person’s gesturing style—for example, that of a politician or famous speaker—if it’s out of your comfort zone. The gestures will seem forced and you’ll seem inauthentic. 

Tip 3: Don’t overthink which gestures to use. Settle on those that feel the most natural and appropriate to the situation.

Tip #4: Keep your gestures within the “power sphere.” This is the area of the body from the eyes down to the navel. Placing your hands any lower than the navel suggests a lack of confidence and energy.

Tips for Effective Presentation Planning

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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