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Is your audience engaged or throwing tomatoes?

5 lecture preparation tips to ensure you leave your audience wanting more


"[D]eveloping a presentation, talk or class is a performance. We are on stage, and people want to hear the best we have to give,” Cebollero writes.

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One of my favorite skills to practice is the ability to inform, entertain and educate an audience. To me, public speaking is one of the greatest skills and abilities that a leader must know. When I was in the Air Force, I attended 6 weeks of instructor’s school, then, over the course of my military tenure, it was an honor to achieve my Master Instructor badge. With the foundation of instructor’s school and close to 40 years of presenting, I’ve learned a multitude of lessons about public speaking.

Recently, my speaking commitments took me to Denver to deliver two presentations, “Ultimate coaching: Skills for developing a highly engaged workforce,” and “Self-mastery, becoming the best version of yourself.” After one of my talks, someone came up to me and asked a question no one has ever asked me: “what tips do you have for preparing for a lecture.” After a bit of thinking I’ve come up with five tips for delivering an engaging presentation, lecture or lesson.

1. Spend time thinking about your talk

When it comes to a top shelf presentation, it always needs to start off with a bit of reflection. This allows the opportunity to assess what will be happening during that talk. Some of the questions I consider are:

  • Who will my audience be?
  • What type of conference or venue will I be speaking at?
  • Is there a theme for this event?
  • What is the topic I will be speaking on?
  • Where is my knowledge in teaching that topic?

I jot down main and sub points that will add the most value for the audience.

2. Keep your content fresh

Next, even if I have taught the subject 100 times, every class must be different, and this is where preparation helps. One of my favorite talks to deliver is on servant leadership. Last year, I delivered this topic 12 times at various conferences. One was for insurance brokers, one for dentists and one for finance/bankers. It was paramount that the talk revolved around their specialty areas. Being able to relate real-world examples and stories will add more value. Spend time refreshing your knowledge. Every time you teach on the same topic, try to add three to five pieces of new information.

When developing new content, I use my three Ps of preparation. They are:

  • Purposeful. Ensure the talk has meaning and will add value
  • Practical. Ensure the material is something attendees can use to develop their knowledge, skills and abilities
  • Personal. Consider the human side of who is sitting in your audience and how best to develop a connection with those listening

3. Take time for presentation preparation

This is a big one, and I feel the most important. As a rule of thumb, I like to prepare for a minimum of 4 hours for every hour of talking I will be doing. I have taken as long as 20 hours to prepare for a 1-hour talk. It all depends on what you must develop, research and learn to get ready to deliver the material. Find your sweet spot for the right amount of time to prepare to deliver your content comfortably.

4. Evaluate the stye needed

There are many ways to deliver a talk or teach an audience. When developing the material and preparing to deliver that material, the next step is to figure out the best way to convey that information.

Are you using PowerPoint, or will you be speaking off an outline or lesson plan? Will you be standing behind a lectern, standing on a stage or roaming the floor with dynamic energy? Recently, I have been using more of a conservational style, sitting at a round table, and a high-top chair.

This step will allow you the opportunity to visualize your style and how you will be delivering the content. One final note here, regardless of how many times you give a lecture, make it better the next time.

5. Refresh your presentation skills

I will spend part of my preparation practicing my presentation skills. The last couple of hours are a dry run of the whole presentation as if it were real. I make note of my pitch, tone and volume. I go through my movements and questioning techniques. Mix up your questioning techniques to stay fresh and keep the audience guessing.

In my early days of speaking, I would voice or video record my preparation sessions to see how I looked and sounded. This is a great tool for development.

Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses

I did not give this tip in Denver, but on the flight home, I remembered one more thing that I do when the presentation is over. I take time to reflect on every presentation and I journal the session. First, I think about how I delivered the content, where there were high points, and where the delivery fell flat. Did I make the audience laugh or were they ready to throw tomatoes? I reflect on my presentation skills, and finally grade the presentation and my performance on a 1-10 scale. This helps me next time when I present or deliver content.

Speaking to others is an honor and we need to remember that people may be paying to hear you speak and giving them a presentation they can remember is your responsibility. To me, developing a presentation, talk or class is a performance. We are on stage, and people want to hear the best we have to give.

Just like me, I am sure that you have taken classes or heard speakers who were torture to sit through. It is vital you hone your skills, prepare the content and practice the material so you do not become one of these presenters.

My last pearl of wisdom: do everything you can during your performance to leave them wanting more.


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Chris Cebollero is head of operations for QuickMedic. Cebollero is a nationally recognized Emergency Medical Services leader, best selling author, and advocate. He is a member of the Forbes Coaching Council and available for speaking, coaching and mentoring. Cebollero is a member of the EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board. Follow him on Twitter @ChiefofEMS and on Facebook.