The first P is picking the right topic. If you are assigned a topic, then you must pick what evidence and explanations you will include. The most important criterion in picking a topic is that it be one that you get excited about. If you are enthusiastic about it, your audience will model your attitude. If supporting evidence is all equal, then choose the support that you are most enthusiastic about. Excitement makes you have more animation in the delivery of your presentation and thus a more effective presentation overall.
The second P is perusing material that might work in your presentation. Ideally, if you know far enough in advance about your upcoming presentation, you want to start this part several weeks before the speech is delivered. Look through magazines, trade journals, newspapers, and the internet for relevant materials. Ask associates for content ideas. This is not the time to be writing ideas down so much as it is finding available, recent, relevant, and appropriate material for your presentation. This stage of your preparation may help you to determine what direction to go with the structure and limitation of your topic.
The third P is pondering. Here you simply want to think about your topic. Mull it over in your mind. Think about the topic as you are driving to your next appointment or as you are walking the dog or enjoying a sunset. This portion does not have to be done at your desk; in fact you may find your mind functions better when you are not attached to a desk or office. Wait to actually record ideas on paper until you have thought about the speech for a while. Writing down ideas may cause you to focus and limit to the point that you may stifle the creative process. So wait a few days before putting things on paper.
The fourth P is to piece together your ideas. Think about what will go into the introduction, body, and conclusion of your presentation. Examine what will best get the audience’s attention, such as a startling statement or statistic. Consider what your preview might be, such as a statement of purpose, or mention the main points you plan to cover. The body of the presentation is where you want to place the bulk of your presentation. You will want to have few points—maybe two or three—and several pieces of evidence to fit each point. Make sure the evidence you choose relates to the point being made and is a strong support so that your audience will understand or be moved to action. If you have a thirty-minute presentation, have enough material here to cover twenty-five of your minutes. The opening and closing material should not take but two to three minutes each. As you prepare, include material in your conclusion that will either summarize or move people to action. End with a thought-providing quotation or testimonial that earns you the right to sit down and gives the audience something to remember.
The fifth P is to practice your presentation aloud. Begin by telling parts of your speech in conversation with friends and associates. Look for reactions to your points and for signs of understanding. If the story is one that is funny to you, you’ll want to see if the person listening thinks it is humorous as well. Does the friend or peer seem influenced by the evidence? Once you have tried out material, then start to put the ideas together in a coherent manner. Look for what logically would go first, then second and so forth. You want to practice your entire speech at least three times. The first time is to check it for coherency and length. You may even read through most of it. The second time is to work through how you will deliver the presentation. Evaluate places where you can gesture, pause, or punch out key words or statistics. Consider when you might take a step for emphasis or to illustrate changing direction. The third practice is a dress rehearsal. Find someone who will listen to you and time you. Ask for feedback when you finish. Stand while delivering as you would in the actual presentation.
One last P is to check proper nouns for correction pronunciation. Ask the local people about the pronunciation of a name, location, or building you may reference in your presentation. Just recently I did not check the pronunciation of a last name that I was unfamiliar with and a kind listener come to me after the presentation to correct my error. Rest assured that proper nouns mispronounced will be noticed by the people who know the correct way to say the name or place and improper pronunciation can negatively impact your credibility.
A successful presentation is never a sure bet, but if you use these Ps in preparation, you will certainly have the odds in your favor.
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati, Ohio. He works with organizations whose people want to speak and listen more effectively to increase personal and professional success. He can be reached at 800-727-6520, or visit http://www.sboyd.com for free articles and resources to improve your communication skills.