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1. Defining objectives for your talk


Defining your objectives for your talk will help you design it to be effective. A really good structure for writing objectives is: ‘By the end of my talk the audience will …..’

To guide you through the process of crafting your objectives, note the answers to these questions:

  • Who are your audience?
  • What is your aim in presenting to them? – Inform? Persuade? Inspire? Entertain? Demonstrate? Something else?
  • What do you want them to know?
  • What do they want to know?
  • What do they already know?
  • What may they not know?
  • What’s in it for them?

So let’s imagine you are going to make a short presentation to your department about your research.

You want them to know about what you are doing, why, and what’s new and innovative about your particular work. So you want to inform them about yourself and your work, and maybe also persuade and entertain them.

You can make assumptions about their knowledge of your subject, but might need to think about the extent of their specialist knowledge in your particular field. What therefore might you need to explain?

They want to be interested, engaged, and to enjoy your talk.

So your objectives might be crafted as ‘By the end of my talk, the audience will…

  • Understand the context of my work
  • Be aware of where / how my work is extending existing knowledge
  • Know how my work might connect with theirs


2. Selecting and structuring your content


Select your Content

Use your objectives to decide and prioritise what your content should be. If it helps, re-visit the questions about your audience:

  • What do you want them to know?
  • What do they want to know?

It’s very easy to include content that you like, but that maybe isn’t directly relevant to this particular talk. Be ready to leave stuff out if it doesn’t help deliver your objectives.

Structuring your Talk: first things first

  • Begin with the end in mind. 

If you know what your destination is, it will be easier to determine the steps along the way

  • How are you going to create the most impact for your audience?

By following a logical sequence? By presenting them with something like a mind map? By starting at the end and then recapping? By presenting your key messages in groups of three?

  • Whatever your sequence, make sure you have a clear beginning, middle, end.

One way of doing this is tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you’ve told them. Another way of describing this is to have an Introduction, Main body and Conclusion

Structuring your talk: Beginnings

Craft a beginning that has maximum impact, is appropriate to the group and grabs the audience’s attention. Possible ways of doing this are:

  • Ask rhetorical/real question
  • Make startling statement
  • Do something unexpected – startle the audience in some way
  • Use visual aid: drawing or cartoon

Make it clear in your introduction when you will take questions. 

Build the content –start with something you know everyone will understand then build on it

Structuring your talk: Signposting

Use signposting language throughout your talk to guide your audience through your structure.

Signposts can be used to introduce, outline, summarise, conclude, analyse, recommend, give examples…..and more.

The BBC have a useful resource on signposting language.

Structuring your talk: Endings

Make your ending clear and final. Don’t just tail off, saying something like ‘That’s it, really.’ Possible endings:

  • ‘Thank you for your attention’
  • ‘Are there any questions?’
  • Make a statement referring to the future / what might happen next
  • Revisit your objective(s), tell people what they should now know or be able to do and invite them to go and try it.
  • Make sure the conclusion does not contain any new material


3. Getting your talk off the page / screen

Your talk is not a talk as long as it exists only as words on the page or on the screen. It only becomes a talk when you start speaking it. More on that in the section on rehearsing, but the first step in getting it off the page is to use techniques to engage and involve the audience.

Seeing / saying / doing aids information retention more than just listening to it

Different people retain information in different ways so it’s a good idea to present your information in a variety of ways.

How will you achieve the impact you want? Consider using some of these:

  • Questions and quizzes
  • Diagrams, charts, graphs, statistics
  • Pictures, cartoons
  • Colour
  • Examples and analogies
  • Video/DVD/CDs
  • Props or ‘Real’ models people can handle
  • Some audience participation – group or pair work needn’t be intimidating
  • Flipchart work
  • Handout

...and then we come to Powerpoint…

Please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that Powerpoint slides are a presentation. You are the presentation.
Powerpoint is there as a visual aid, just as many of the tools listed above are.

That being the case, think very carefully about how you are using PowerPoint.

Some general Do’s and Don’t’s:


  • Use it to help convey your message
  • Consider the PowerPoint presentations you have seen. What makes them effective? What makes them distracting and boring?
  • Use images, videos, things to help convey your message
  • Make sure whatever you put on your slides is big enough to be visible to the audience
  • Use animations with care – are they helping or distracting?


  • Use it as a prop
  • Reproduce your talk word for word on the slides. If you are going to do this you might as well give the audience the slides and let them read them.
  • Use too many bullet points
  • Put lots of text on slides


Alison Trinder October 2020