22 Developing a Presentation Strategy

Learning Objectives

Upon completing this chapter, you should be able to

  • describe key communication format factors to consider when developing a presentation,
  • describe the main functional elements of an effective introduction,
  • match the main elements of the rhetorical model to where they are best applied in the development of a presentation,
  • describe the functional organization in the body of an effective presentation,
  • describe the main functional elements of an effective conclusion, and
  • develop a presentation outline using the concepts discussed in the chapter.


In beginning to think about a strategy for your presentation, you must move from thinking only about your “self” to how you will engage with the world outside of you, which, of course, includes your audience and environment.


This chapter focuses on helping you prepare a presentation strategy by first revisiting the acronym FAST, which will help you select an appropriate Format, prepare an Audience analysis, ensure your Style reflects your authentic personality and strengths, and that the Tone is appropriate for the occasion.


Then, after you’ve selected the appropriate channel, you will begin drafting your presentation first by considering the general and specific purposes of your presentation and using an outline to map your ideas and strategy.


You’ll also learn to consider whether to incorporate backchannels or other technology into your presentation, and, finally, you will begin to think about how to develop presentation aids that will support your topic and approach.


At the end of this chapter you should be armed with a solid strategy for approaching your presentation in a way that is authentically you, balanced with knowing what’s in it for your audience while making the most of the environment.

Preparing a Presentation Strategy

Incorporating FAST

In the Writing module, you learned the acronym FAST, which you can use to develop your message according to the elements of Format, Audience, Style, and Tone. When you are working on a presentation, much like in your writing, you will rely on FAST to help you make choices.


First, you’ll need to think about the Format of your presentation. This is a choice between presentation types. In your professional life you’ll encounter the verbal communication channels in the following table. The purpose column labels each channel with a purpose (I=Inform, P=Persuade, or E=Entertain) depending on that channel’s most likely purpose.

Channel Direction Level of Formality Interaction Purpose
Speech One to many Formal Low. One-sided I,P,E
Presentation One/Few-to-many Formal Variable. Often includes Q&A I,P,E
Panel Few-to-,many Formal High. Q&A based I,P
Meeting Group Informal High. I,P
Teleconference Group Informal High I,P
Workshop One-to-many Informal High. Collaborative I (Educate)
Webinar One-to-many Formal Low. I
Podcast One-to-many Formal Low. Recorded I,P,E
Table 3.2.1 Presentation Communication Channels

There are some other considerations to make when you are selecting a format. For example, the number of speakers may influence the format you choose. Panels and Presentations may have more than one speaker. In meetings and teleconferences, multiple people will converse. In a Workshop setting, one person will usually lead the event, but there is often a high-level of collaboration between participants.


The location of participants will also influence your decision. For example, if participants cannot all be in the same room, you might choose a teleconference or webinar. If asynchronous delivery is important, you might record a podcast. When choosing a technology-reliant channel, such as a teleconference or webinar, be sure to test your equipment and make sure each participant has access to any materials they need before you begin.


Once you have chosen a Format, make sure your message is right for your Audience, just as you did in the Foundations module, when you conducted your Audience Analysis. You’ll need to think about issues such as the following:


  • What expectations will the audience have?
  • What is the context of your communication?
  • What does the audience already know about the topic?
  • How is the audience likely to react to you and your message?


The AUDIENCE tool you used in the Foundations module will be helpful tool here.


Next, you’ll consider the style of your presentation. Some of the things you discovered about yourself as a speaker in the self-awareness exercises earlier will influence your presentation style. Perhaps you prefer to present formally, limiting your interaction with the audience, or perhaps you prefer a more conversational, informal style, where discussion is a key element. You may prefer to cover serious subjects, or perhaps you enjoy delivering humorous speeches. Style is all about your personality!


Finally, you’ll select a tone for your presentation. Your voice, body language, level of self-confidence, dress, and use of space all contribute to the mood that your message takes on. Consider how you want your audience to feel when they leave your presentation, and approach it with that mood in mind.

Presentation Purpose

Your presentation will have a general and specific purpose. Your general purpose may be to inform, persuade, or entertain—the same goals you had in previous modules. It’s likely that any speech you develop will have a combination these goals. Most presentations have a little bit of entertainment value, even if they are primarily attempting to inform or persuade. For example, the speaker might begin with a joke or dramatic opening, even though their speech is primarily informational.


Your specific purpose addresses what you are going to inform, persuade, or entertain your audience with—the main topic of your speech. Each example below includes two pieces of information: first, the general purpose; second, the specific purpose.


To inform the audience about my favourite car, the Ford Mustang

To persuade the audience that global warming is a threat to the environment


Aim to speak for 90 percent of your allotted time so that you have time to answer audience questions at the end (assuming you have allowed for this). If audience questions are not expected, aim for 95 percent. Do not go overtime—audience members may need to be somewhere else immediately following your presentation, and you will feel uncomfortable if they begin to pack up and leave while you are still speaking. Conversely, you don’t want to finish too early, as they may feel as if they didn’t get their “money’s worth.”


To assess the timing of your speech as you prepare, you can

  • set a timer while you do a few practice runs, and take an average
  • run your speech text through an online speech timer
  • estimate based on the number of words (the average person speaks at about 120 words per minute)


You can improve your chances of hitting your time target when you deliver your speech, by marking your notes with an estimated time at certain points. For example, if your speech starts at 2 p.m., you might mark 2:05 at the start of your notes for the body section, so that you can quickly glance at the clock and make sure you are on target. If you get there more quickly, consciously try to pause more often or speak more slowly, or speed up a little if you are pressed for time. If you have to adjust your timing as you are delivering the speech, do so gradually. It will be jarring to the audience if you start out speaking at a moderate pace, then suddenly realize you are going to run out of time and switch to rapid-fire delivery!

Incorporating Backchannels

Have you ever been to a conference where speakers asked for audience questions via social media? Perhaps one of your teachers at school has used Twitter for student comments and questions, or has asked you to vote on an issue through an online poll. Technology has given speakers new ways to engage with an audience in real time, and these can be particularly useful when it isn’t practical for the audience to share their thoughts verbally—for example, when the audience is very large, or when they are not all in the same location.


These secondary or additional means of interacting with your audience are called backchannels, and you might decide to incorporate one into your presentation, depending on your aims. They can be helpful for engaging more introverted members of the audience who may not be comfortable speaking out verbally in a large group. Using publicly accessible social networks, such as a Facebook Page or Twitter feed, can also help to spread your message to a wider audience, as audience members share posts related to your speech with their networks. Because of this, backchannels are often incorporated into conferences; they are helpful in marketing the conference and its speakers both during and after the event.


There are some caveats involved in using these backchannels, though. If, for example, you ask your audience to submit their questions via Twitter, you’ll need to choose a hashtag for them to append to the messages so that you can easily find them. You’ll also need to have an assistant who will sort and choose the audience questions for you to answer. It is much too distracting for the speaker to do this on their own during the presentation. You could, however, respond to audience questions and comments after the presentation via social media, gaining the benefits of both written and verbal channels to spread your message.

Developing the Content

Creating an Outline

As with any type of messaging, it helps if you create an outline of your speech or presentation before you create it fully. This ensures that each element is in the right place and gives you a place to start to avoid the dreaded blank page. Here is an outline template that you can adapt for your purpose. Replace the placeholders in the Content column with your ideas or points, then make some notes in the Verbal and Visual Delivery column about how you will support or emphasize these points using the techniques we’ve discussed.

Section Content Verbal and Visual Delivery
  • Attention-grabber
  • Main idea
  • Common ground
  • I. Main idea: Point 1
  • Subpoint 1
  • A.1 specific information 1
  • A.2 specific information 2
  • II. Main idea: Point 2
  • Subpoint 1
  • B.1 specific information 1
  • B.2 specific information 2
  • III. Main idea: Point 3
  • Subpoint 1
  • C.1 specific information 1
  • C.2 specific information 2
  • Summary of main points 1-3
  • Residual message/call-to-action
Table 3.2.2 Presentation Outline


The beginning of your speech needs an attention-grabber to get your audience interested right away. Choose your attention-grabbing device based on what works best for you topic. Your entire introduction should only be around 10 to 15 percent of your total speech, so be sure to keep this section short. Here are some devices that you could try:

Subject Statement – to the point, but not the most interesting choice.


We are surrounded by statistical information in today’s world, so understanding statistics is becoming paramount to citizenship in the twenty-first century.

Audience Reference – highlights something common to the audience that will make them interested in the topic.


As human resource professionals, you and I know the importance of talent management. In today’s competitive world, we need to invest in getting and keeping the best talent for our organizations to succeed.

Quotation – wise words of another person. You can find quotations online that cover just about any topic.


Oliver Goldsmith, a sixteenth-century writer, poet, and physician, once noted that “the true use of speech is not so much to express our wants as to conceal them.”

Current Event – refer to a current event in the news that demonstrates the relevance of your topic to the audience.


On January 10, 2007, Scott Anthony Gomez Jr. and a fellow inmate escaped from a Pueblo, Colorado, jail. During their escape the duo attempted to rappel from the roof of the jail using a makeshift ladder of bed sheets. During Gomez’s attempt to scale the building, he slipped, fell 40 feet, and injured his back. After being quickly apprehended, Gomez filed a lawsuit against the jail for making it too easy for him to escape.

Historical Event – Compare or contrast your topic with an occasion in history.


During the 1960s and ’70s, the United States intervened in the civil strife between North and South Vietnam. The result was a long-running war of attrition in which many American lives were lost and the country of Vietnam suffered tremendous damage and destruction. We saw a similar war waged in Iraq. American lives were lost, and stability has not yet returned to the region.

Anecdote, Parable, or Fable – An anecdote is a brief account or story of an interesting or humorous event, while a parable or fable is a symbolic tale designed to teach a life lesson.


In July 2009, a high school girl named Alexa Longueira was walking along a main boulevard near her home on Staten Island, New York, typing in a message on her cell phone. Not paying attention to the world around her, she took a step and fell right into an open manhole (Witney, 2009).

The ancient Greek writer Aesop told a fable about a boy who put his hand into a pitcher of filberts. The boy grabbed as many of the delicious nuts as he possibly could. But when he tried to pull them out, his hand wouldn’t fit through the neck of the pitcher because he was grasping so many filberts. Instead of dropping some of them so that his hand would fit, he burst into tears and cried about his predicament. The moral of the story? “Don’t try to do too much at once” (Aesop, 1881).


Surprising Statement – A strange fact or statistic related to your topic that startles your audience.


  • A Boeing 747 airliner holds 57,285 gallons of fuel.
  • The average person has over 1,460 dreams a year.
  • There are no clocks in any casinos in Las Vegas.
  • In 2000, Pope John Paul II became the most famous honorary member of the Harlem Globetrotters.

Question – You could ask either a question that asks for a response from your audience, or a rhetorical question, which does not need a response but is designed to get them thinking about the topic.


  • Raise your hand if you have ever thought about backpacking in Europe.
  • If you prick us, do we not bleed? (Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice)

Humour – A joke or humorous quotation can work well, but to use humour you need to be sure that your audience will find the comment funny. You run the risk of insulting members of the audience, or leaving them puzzled if they don’t get the joke, so test it out on someone else first!


“The only thing that stops God from sending another flood is that the first one was useless.”—Nicolas Chamfort, sixteenth-century French author

Personal Reference – Refer to a story about yourself that is relevant to the topic.


In the fall of 2008, I decided that it was time that I took my life into my own hands. After suffering for years with the disease of obesity, I decided to take a leap of faith and get a gastric bypass in an attempt to finally beat the disease.

Occasion Reference – This device is only relevant if your speech is occasion-specific, for example, a toast at a wedding, a ceremonial speech, or a graduation commencement.


Today we are here to celebrate the wedding of two wonderful people.

fter the attention-getter comes the rest of your introduction. It needs to do the following:


  • Capture the audience’s interest
  • State the purpose of your speech
  • Establish credibility
  • Give the audience a reason to listen
  • Signpost the main ideas



Rhetoric and Argument

Your audience will think to themselves, Why should I listen to this speech? What’s in it for me? One of the best things you can do as a speaker is to answer these questions early in your body, if you haven’t already done so in your introduction. This will serve to gain their support early and will fill in the blanks of who, what, when, where, why, and how in their minds.

You may remember the three rhetorical proofs, namely, ethos, pathos, and logos, from the Writing Module. The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384‒322 B.C) considered these the three most important elements in a speaker’s arsenal.



Ethos refers to the speaker’s character and expertise. When you use ethos correctly, you are showing the audience that you are credible and that they can believe what you say. To cover this element in your speech, tell the audience why they should listen to you. You can do this by demonstrating your authority on your topic. For example, you could begin a persuasive speech on the dangers of drinking and driving with a short story about how you helped implement a “designated driver” program. This way the audience will understand your relationship to the message and form a positive perception of you. If you are trying to persuade the audience to donate blood, your credibility on the subject may come from your studies in the medical field or from having volunteered at a blood drive.



The term pathos refers to the use of emotion as a persuasive element. You have probably seen commercials on television for charities trying to raise funds for sick children or mistreated animals, complete with sad images and music; this is pathos at work. We don’t always make decisions based on clear thinking. We are easily moved by words, by a video clip, or by a piece of music, so this can be an effective way of convincing the audience to take a particular action. But it can be overdone, and the audience will tire of it if you push too hard. If pathos is central to your strategy, be subtle about it so that you don’t turn off your audience.



The term logos refers to logic. Aristotle believed that any argument should be based on logic, not pathos (emotion), but you might not agree! To win your audience over using logic, your speech must be carefully organized and present facts and evidence. Depending on the general purpose of your speech, particularly if its goal is to persuade, you may need to present an argument. To do this, logos is key. Think about what prosecutors do during a trial—particularly during closing arguments. This is the place for facts and reason. Prosecutors will argue that the scenario they have presented is the only logical interpretation of the evidence. To use logos effectively, incorporate expert testimony, statistics, and other reliable data.



An organized body helps your audience to follow your speech and recall your points later. When developing the body of your speech, recall the specific purpose you decided on, then choose main points to support it. Just two or three main points are usually sufficient, depending on the length of your speech. Anticipate one main point per two to three minutes of speaking.


To narrow down your main points, start by brainstorming. Don’t worry about judging the value or importance of the points at this stage; just write down as many possible points as you can that support your topic. What information does your audience need to know to understand your topic? What information does your speech need to convey to accomplish its specific purpose? Here is an example of a list that you might begin with.

Item Notes
Specific Purpose To inform a group of school administrators about the various open-source software packages that could be utilized in their school districts
Brainstorming List of Points Define open-source software.
Define educational software.
List and describe the software commonly used by school districts.
Explain the advantages of using open-source software.
Explain the disadvantages of using open-source software.
Review the history of open-source software.
Describe the value of open-source software.
Describe some educational open-source software packages.
Review the software needs of my specific audience.
Describe some problems that have occurred with open-source software.
Table 3.2.3 Organizing the Points in a Presentation

Once you have a list of points, you’ll need to narrow them down. Begin by looking for closely related minor points that can be grouped into one. This process is called chunking. Before reading our chunking of the preceding list, can you determine three large chunks out of the list above?


Item Notes
Specific Purpose To inform a group of school administrators about the various open-source software packages that could be utilized in their school districts
Main Point 1 School districts use software in their operations.
Define educational software.
List and describe the software commonly used by school districts.
Main Point 2 What is open-source software?
Define open-source software.
Review the history of open-source software.
Explain the advantages of using open-source software.
Explain the disadvantages of using open-source software.
Describe some problems that have occurred with open-source software.
Main Point 3 Name some specific open-source software packages that may be appropriate for the audience’s use.
Review the software needs of my specific audience.
Describe some educational open-source software packages.
Table 3.2.4 Organizing the Main Points in a Presentation

The preceding list is a little disjointed, and not all of the topics work together clearly. These are just general ideas at this point. There is often more than one way to organize a speech. Some of these points could be left out, and others developed more fully, depending on the purpose and audience. You will refine this information until you have the number of main points you need. Ensure that they are distinct, and balance the content of your speech so that you spend roughly the same amount of time addressing each. You’ll also need to remember what you learned about parallel structure in the Writing Module, to make sure each of your main points is phrased in the same way. The last thing to do when working on your body is to make sure your points are in a logical order, so that your ideas flow naturally from one to the next.


Concluding on a High Note

You’ll need to keep your energy up until the very end of your speech. In your conclusion, your job is to let the audience know you are finished, help them remember what you’ve told them, and leave them with a final thought or call-to-action, depending on the general purpose of your message.


In this chapter you revisited the importance of FAST and AUDIENCE tools in helping to lay out a strategy that incorporates your own understanding with the needs of the audience. You learned about how to use an outline to stay organized and keep track of your ideas, as well as general and specific purposes. You learned the importance of sustaining your audience’s attention throughout the presentation with key approaches you can take as you write your introduction, body, and conclusion. You should now be prepared to take your strategy to the next level by ensuring you next consider whether and how to incorporate high-quality presentation aids.


Aesop (1881). Aesop’s fables. New York, NY: Wm. L. Allison. Retrieved from http://www.litscape.com/author/Aesop/The_Boy_and_the_Filberts.html


Ebbinghaus, H. (1885). Memory: A contribution to experimental psychology [Online version]. Retrieved from http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Ebbinghaus/index.htm


Whitney, L. (2009, July 13). Don’t text while walking? Girl learns the hard way. CNET News Wireless. Retrieved from http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3-10285466-94.html

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