Five simple steps to develop great content for your presentation

Previously, I posted five steps to improve your presentations In this article, you will learn five simple steps to develop great content for your presentations.


A good outline of a talk, in which you prime the audience for enticing climax, is: why questions > how questions > power phrases > provide answers (repeat for the three main topics) > close. You need to keep the audience hungry for more and you keep teasing them by promising the answers throughout the presentation. Some call this “build and release”. Use this outline for three ideas or topics then you can focus on smaller material, develop a framework and the audience can remember those three things.

Power phrases

Power phrases are short phrases that are symbolizes the main themes of your presentation. The very best power phrases are simple to say, have folksy tune, and are easy to remember. Craig Valentine, author of the book World Class Speaking, talks about the “daughter test” i.e. if his five-year old daughter can say the phrase easily, that phrase is in, otherwise, he works on the phrase until it passes the daughter test. In his book, How to deliver a TED talk, Jeremey Donovan, provides an example: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything”. As you can see from this phrase, it is short, it has rhyming words, it has opposite words, and most importantly, it is simple. Rhyming words, anaphora and alliteration work really well for these phrases. Once you have these phrases ready, you should repeat them at least three times throughout your presentation.

Opening and Closing

Beginning of the talk, especially the first few seconds, will define and set the direction of your talk. If you can engage the audience right then, they are likely to stay with you during  the whole talk.   This is the period when you have the most command/respect on the stage. Don’t waste time introducing yourself; they most likely know who you are. The audience will decide to tune in or out based on your opening. As James C. Humes discussed in this book Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln, don’t waste your time in niceties and formalities, start with a bang! If you want to thank someone, thank later, but open your presentation with passion. Various speaking and presentation books suggest that you should start your presentation with either a powerful question or a powerful story. Usually, the “wonderment” types of questions, such as why, how, and what, are powerful. A personal story that ties into your the message of your talk also is effective.

In the opening, you should provide a simple map of what you are going to talk about (and what the audience would get out of it) and leave the audience wanting for more. This map should talk about the benefits that the audience would receive; for example, “when you walk out of this room, you would have the three secrets to make your presentations 10 times better.”

The closing of your presentation is equally important. Don’t end your presentation with Q&A. Craig Valentine in World Class Speaking suggests that you should take Q&A before you end your presentation and then wrap up your presentation by reminding the audience of the benefits, repeat your power phrase, and leave on a very high note by making a call to action. And this call to action will make the attendees better, happier, or richer.


You can provide as many statistics as you want in your presentation, but none would make a greater impact than that of a story of an individual. Notice any newspaper, even the dense ones such as the Economist, will start with a story of a person and then provide other statistics that we can relate through that person. Statistics gain more meaning when we can relate to stories behind those numbers. Stories are all around us. We all experience moments that either teach us, humble us, or change us; record these moments as soon as you experience them. The audience is present to hear your thoughts; inspire them with your unique experiences. Don’t wait until your presentation to think about stories. Always capture them somewhere. Paul Smith in his book Lead with a Story provides various examples of the stories that he experienced, but he also shows the importance of recording your own stories.


Jeremey Donovan in his book How to deliver a TED talk asks us to talk about about the greatest lesson that we have learned or the greatest joy that we have experienced. You set the conflict up and build the tension when you talk about those topics. But then if you are able provide a recipe (better if it is your own story of how you overcame an obstacle) on setting or achieving goals, the talk will have a greater impact, especially when you encourage people to take action and to make a difference in their lives. People like envisioning a better future and are excited by the hopes of such a future.

To do so, you need to inspire the audience by a certain, central idea that will energize people to think differently or take action. Due to the human nature, we instantly get connected to the topics of our needs, our interests and our actualization. If you can provide a message that makes any of these values better, people will get inspired. As Craig Valentine says in his book World Class Speaking, people will get motivated if they get something from the presentation to do any or all to “esteem more, do more, gain more, and enjoy more.”

I hope this provides you with some ideas for your next presentation/talk. Don’t wait too long. The audience deserves to hear the authentic you; give them your best. Please comment on any ideas you have to develop great content of a presentation.

Image by Antonio Litterio derivative work: InverseHypercube Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

About the Author

A co-author of Data Science for Fundraising, an award winning keynote speaker, Ashutosh R. Nandeshwar is one of the few analytics professionals in the higher education industry who has developed analytical solutions for all stages of the student life cycle (from recruitment to giving). He enjoys speaking about the power of data, as well as ranting about data professionals who chase after “interesting” things. He earned his PhD/MS from West Virginia University and his BEng from Nagpur University, all in industrial engineering. Currently, he is leading the data science, reporting, and prospect development efforts at the University of Southern California.

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