The 6 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before Giving a Presentation

October 18, 2017

If you are giving a presentation at work, you should ask yourself these six questions.

Giving a presentation can be stressful. It’s often to a group that doesn’t know you particularly well, and the presentation will define their first impression of you. Or, even if it is a group you know well, like your team, it’s a chance to show them what you’ve been working on.

Hence, you want to make your presentation both engaging and impactful. And yet, how many times have you sat through presentations that are anything but?

Entirely too often.

You can avoid that. In her LinkedIn Learning course Personal Effectiveness Tips, Instructor Dorie Clark posed six questions you should ask yourself before delivering any presentation. They apply to all types of presentations: sales presentations, keynote presentations or presentations to people within your company.

By ensuring the answer to all six questions is yes, your presentation will be engaging, relevant and – most importantly of all – get the action you want afterwards. The questions are:

1. What problem are you solving?

To get people engaged in your presentation, they need to know what problem you are solving.

For a sales presentation, maybe it’s your software automates some task that makes their employees more efficient. Or, for an internal presentation, talk about the point of the project you're presenting on: is it to increase sales? Improve brand affinity? Fix a bug that’s costing the company money?

“First, what's the problem you're solving?” Clark said. “It may be perfectly clear to you… but it may not be self-evident to your listeners. You need to be sure you're all operating from the same context and that means spelling out exactly what problem you're trying to address.”

2. Why now?

Building off the last point, you need to explain why you need to solve this problem now, when there are potentially dozens of other areas you could be spending your time on.

“You need to explain that things are not fine and that they will be even less fine if you continue waiting,” Clark said. “Inaction often seems like the safe choice, and you need to convey why it's not.”

3. How was this idea vetted?

Often, a presentation is a recommendation you want others to take (like a sales presentation, for example, or if you are pitching an executive an idea). At the very least, it's an FYI to others on what you are going forward with.

Either way, you need to explain how you came to his recommendation/conclusion. Because some people are going to assume you just came up with the idea yourself, unless you tell them otherwise.

“You have to make it extremely clear that this is the product of hard work, deep thought and research, and get into detail on specifics,” Clark said. “Did you survey 1,000 customers? Conduct 25 focus groups? Consult with 100 scientists? If so, let them know.”

4. Have you simplified your presentation?

In her course, Clark mentioned “the curse of knowledge.” When you are presenting, it’s almost always on a topic you’ve spent a lot of time on and know a lot about.

The problem? The people you are presenting to rarely have that same level of context. So, if you don’t guard against "the curse of knowledge," there’s a chance the presentation will go over people's heads.

“A good exercise is to give a practice presentation to a spouse or friend who doesn't work in your industry and make sure they can understand it enough to explain it back to you,” Clark said.

5. Did you include a story in your presentation?

It doesn’t matter what you are presenting on, you can almost always add a story to really hammer home the point. Even something as dry as fixing an IT bug – you can mention a real or fictitious story of the problem that bug is causing in people’s day-to-day lives, and how fixing this bug will make their lives better.

“An anecdote about how your product or service will impact or has impacted a real person will almost always help crystallize why it's important,” Clark said.

6. Is there a call to action?

Usually the most important, and one that is all-too-often forgot. For a sales presentation, the call-to-action is straightforward: buy this product. For others, it might be not as obvious, but still there: perhaps it’s to share a post or to test and provide feedback to engineering or to start incorporating the lesson into their day-to-day lives.

Regardless, there should always be a call-to-action in a presentation and it should be clear.

“You need to make it explicit, close the presentation by telling them exactly what you'd like them to do,” Clark said.

Final thought

Presentations can be stressful – but they don’t have to be. If you are fully prepared, presentations can be exciting; a way to share an idea or spread the word of the good work you’ve done.

Asking yourself these questions should help you present better, as they go beyond the oft-quoted don’ts of “don’t put too much text on a slide” or “don’t read off a script.” Instead, they ensure what you say is relevant to your audience and they know exactly what you’d like them to do next.

Want to learn more? Watch Dorie Clark’s course, Personal Effectiveness Tips, which is updated weekly.