The preparation of a presentation should begin when you are asked to make it.
Find out as much as you can about the organization, the event, and the venue. If the person who first contacts you isn’t in charge of the program, find out who is and get in touch with that person to obtain the information you need.
Find out specifically what their expectations are, and be sure you have the appropriate knowledge and experience to meet them. Sometimes you’ll be able to suggest a slightly different angle which will result in a more comfortable talk for you to give and a more useful one for the audience to receive.
An architect asked to make a presentation to a group of renovation contractors on the subject “Why you should engage an architect” could sound pretty self-serving and might antagonize some of the audience. But if the topic were changed to “Recognizing situations where an architect can help you please a client”, both problems would be solved.
Find out exactly where you’re going to be giving the talk; not just the location’s address, but which room you’re going to be in, how big the room is and how it’s going to be set up. Will there be a lectern? Get details about the sound system and available audio and visual equipment. Ask where you should park and who you should look for when you arrive. Getting this information will ensure that you arrive in plenty of time and will reduce unpleasant surprises when you get there
Be clear about the format. Is it a panel discussion? If so, who is the moderator, who are the other speakers and what are their topics? What is the order of speakers? How much time have you been allotted? Is there going to be a question and answer period? If you are going to be a member of a panel it is a pretty good idea to get in touch with the other speakers to ensure there isn’t undue duplication in your presentations.
But by far the most important task for you to perform at the outset is to learn as much as possible about your audience. Different people have different expectations. They think and react differently. They respond to different “hot buttons”. What worked wonderfully well in one situation may not do so well in the next. A talk on the taxation of capital gains given to a gathering of the Bar Association can appropriately focus on technical aspects of The Income Tax Act, whereas if your audience is made up of real estate agents you would need to make your points in easily understood layperson’s terms. The real estate agents are not likely to be interested in the technical wording or the numbers of the sections, sub-sections, paragraphs and sub-paragraphs of the Act. They’ll want to know what is taxed, at what rates, and whether there is any to reduce the taxes.
So, how do you gain all this knowledge about your audience? Well, you ask questions and do some research. You talk to the organizers and members of the organization whom you may know personally. You can check the Internet. Find out what the people you’re going to be addressing are talking about these days. What are some of the local issues? All audiences have beliefs, biases, particular interests and views. Find out as much as you can about them.
Audiences also have a particular culture. Service clubs want a fairly short, easy-to-understand luncheon address. Think tanks, on the other hand, expect their luncheon speakers to deliver a substantive message with wide and deep implications.
You can usually find out some interesting facts about your audience when you arrive at the venue, so always arrive early, make yourself available to talk to people, and keep your eyes and ears open for any tidbit that you can use in your talk.
You should always send to the organizers the information you want used in your introduction. Don’t send your life history; just send them what’s needed to qualify you as being sufficiently knowledgeable on the subject to be worth listening to; plus anything else that might be relevant to the particular audience. By profession I’m an accountant. That would be relevant if I was going to give a talk about the ten most common personal financial planning mistakes. But my financial background would mean nothing if my topic was how to give an impromptu speech. In this case it would be my public speaking training, background and experiences that should be part of my introduction. As to information relevant to a particular audience, the fact that I was born in Prince Edward Island would be meaningless to a Vancouver audience, but should definitely be included in an introduction to an audience in Charlottetown.