This post is the first of (so far) three posts about presentation skills. I’ve spent a lot of time writing down a list of good advice for people who do talks and presentations in all scale. So here you go, I hope you will find it useful.

Presentation is not an art.
Art is something created without a specific target audience in mind. Something that reflects the emotions of the artist.

A presentation is something completely different. A presentation is a performance. A performance that (if it’s a good presentation) delivers a clear message to a specific target audience.

Making a great presentation is not easy. It’s something that requires hard work, thought and practice.

And did I mention practice? And practice? And practice?

So in other words: You won’t turn into Steve Jobs over night from reading this post. He has developed his amazing presentation skills over years and years of practice.

The good news is that it doesn’t take much to dramatically change the way your audience will react to your presentations. You can improve tremendously by applying a few principles. So come along now, read on and take your first steps to becoming a presentation ninja.

The phases

Like with any design/ development project, you can divide presentation design into 3 phases:

1. Plan
2. Produce
3. Perform

This blog post will focus on the first phase: Plan.


Essentially, when you start planning your presentation, you should treat it as you would a written story. Because a presentation is a story. A story told in narrative, auditive and visuals to a specific target audience. Knowing who that target audience is will enable you to focus your presentation and create a presentation that they will find relevant.

Know your audience

Start by asking yourself these questions about your audience: “Who are they?”, “what do they know?” and “what do they want to take home from my presentation?”. There’s a big difference between talking to a group of professional front-end designers as opposed to a group of newly graduates just starting out in the business. By knowing “who” and “what” you have a fair chance of making a presentation that is relevant for them because you will be able to include examples (both visual and verbal) they can relate to.

Moving on to the actual presentation planning, it’s a very good idea to start your planning on paper; not in Keynote, Powerpoint or any other presentation software.


The first step you need to take is outline your presentation so you get a clear overview of it’s content.

The initial outline of a presentation starts on paper.
The initial outline of a presentation starts on paper.

I build my stories like this:
1. Tell what you want to tell about (introduction/ outline)
2. Tell it
3. Tell what you told about (summary)

This way you deliver your key messages 3 times.

Like in fairy tales, when telling a story, the number 3 has great power, and you can use it to your advantage to help the audience remember your messages.

So, make things in groups of 3 as often as you can. For instance:  Have 3 key messages, repeat a word at the start of 3 sentences and give 3 examples instead on one.


Once you have your outline, it’s time to write your manuscript (remember, a presentation is a performance, so it needs a script). It will be helpful for you to write your story in full sentences because it will enable you to verbalise what you want to say and will ensure that you create a good flow in the story.

Now, once you have your content firmly mapped out, you can start producing your slides. But hold off on cranking up any software yet – paper and pen is still your friend.


I find sketching to be a big help before I actually start producing the slides digitally.

Using post-it notes, you can create an agile storyboard of your presentation. For each slide, you make a post-it that include visuals, text and audio. Once you have all your slides on post-its you can easily change their order until it’s just right.

Sketching your presentation is a great way to quickly visualise your ideas
Sketching your presentation is a great way to quickly visualise your ideas.

At this point, you should start finding visuals for your slides. It will save you time later on in the process. is a great resource, especially because of its Creative Commons search option. Creative Commons licensed images are free to use in any way you want, as long as you credit the author. You can search for CC licensed photos on Flickr in the Advanced search.

Now, you can fire up the software of your choice and start producing. More about that in the next post of the series: Presentation Ninja Tricks #2: Produce.


8 Responses

  1. Errr…. would you mind not doing this again, please? The reason being that I train people in presentation skills and if you go around giving good advice like this I’ll be out of a job! ;)

    Okay, that’s over-stating the case because nothing can take the place of good training, but you know what I mean… This is very good stuff. For example, like you, I help all our clients plan ‘in analogue’ before they ‘go digital by turning on the computer. It’s very helpful indeed – but people seem to be resistant to doing it sometimes.


  2. i learned something new, i learned something new!!! great and thanks. i always say 3 is the magic number, but so far i have never connected it with fairy tales. muy bien! ;) one subjective point of view regarding the writing step. this is always a great challenge for speakers. if you write down the complete speech script you are tempted to learn it by heart (using notes is a no go – look like earmuffs… “you can war them, but they will never look good on you.”). then on stage they forget their lines, start looking for them, disruptive, not good. i recommend you do that only if the speech length is < 3-5 min. in any other case i would write down the intro and the closing in full sentences, the speech body in mental bullets… thanks again for the fairy tale analogy!! greetings from barcelona, flo

  3. Ha ha, thanks for the kind words, Simon :) I completely agree with you, a blog post, article or even a book on presentation skills can by no means substitute hands on training, iterative feedback and practice. I would love to do more in this field too, but as of now, only my lovely students get this service from me.


  4. Hi Florian. I’m so pleased you learnt something from my post – that was the whole point :) I agree with you on the issue you raise about the complete speech script – you shouldn’t bring it on stage. I’ll write about this in the 3rd part of the Presentation Ninja Tricks series. In short, the complete manuscript is for rehearsing and enabling you to formulate what you want to say. Especially if you’re presenting in a second language, this can be a big help. But once you go into performance mode, you only have key words as support so you don’t tie yourself down to a script. But more about this (and how to go from script to keywords) in #3 :)


  5. love i found this again, will be using it on my next presentation 3rd sem project as it worked so well in the last one. graet set of posts don’t ever delete them.


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