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4 foolproof steps to developing presentation content

4 min read


The cure for presentation writer’s block

When the pressure is on to deliver a mission-critical presentation, even the most experienced presenters sometimes feel overwhelmed trying to develop valuable content. Have you found yourself falling prey to these habits?

  • Staring a blank screen and wondering how to begin
  • Feeling stuck and frantically searching the Internet for something to help you get back on track
  • Obsessing over just the right wording and making no progress

Are you nodding in agreement as your recognize this familiar pattern? We’ve all been there. The good news is, you can kick that anxiety to the curb when you know how to craft a powerful presentation that achieves results.

1. Take a step back

… and recognize that when you are asked to “present third-quarter findings,” “share research findings” or “discuss a success story,” you have been given a topic for a presentation, not the presentation itself. The first step is to narrow that topic and start to define the purpose of your presentation. This first step is a big one, and one that’s challenging for most speakers.

If you find yourself struggling, take a break. Step away from your presentation and do something else to give yourself a mental and physical pause. When you clear your head, start fresh by asking yourself these questions:

  • WHO are your listeners? Are they people with similar expertise and passion for the topic? A cross-section of the organization with varying levels of knowledge and interest? You might even be addressing an audience with no vested interest in the topic.
  • WHY do they care? Key to shaping your message will be your understanding of why an audience is willing to invest their valuable time to listen to your presentation.

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2. Start with a core message

Knowing the WHO and the WHY will help get you out of the rut and start to clarify your intentions for the presentation. The next question is WHAT do your listeners want or need to know about this topic, and what do you envision them remembering, doing or sharing with others following your presentation? The answer to that question should drive your core message — that one simple sentence that summarizes what you need to communicate to your audience.

3. Identify supporting points

In an effort to be complete, it’s easy to make the mistake of trying to share everything you know about the presentation topic. That can quickly become an overwhelming prospect, both for you and for your audience.

Instead of reciting a laundry list of information, try this: do a brain dump of all you know about the topic, writing one idea per sticky note and posting those notes so they are visible. Then sort and group the information. Next, identify the three or four main points and develop a logical flow of information. That’s the way to achieve a memorable presentation with lasting impact.

To learn more, read this related article: “Craft Your Presentation by Answering 4 Questions”

4. Develop the opening last

Given the importance of breaking the ice and gaining the attention of your audience, many speakers find themselves spending too much time looking for the perfect opener, at the expense of the rest of the presentation.

To take the pressure off, table the opening for now and go back to that after you’ve developed the rest of your content. Chances are, that ideal opening will become more obvious as you work through your core message and supporting points. Still stuck? Try asking a question or quoting a surprising statistic to grab the attention of your audience.

To learn more, read these related articles:

The cure for presentation writer’s block is all about keeping the focus where it belongs: on your audience. Remembering that it’s not about you helps you get “unstuck” by making the purpose of your presentation clear.

Here’s the most surprising part: When you know your content is spot-on, you’ll be able to deliver with more confidence, connect with your listeners and achieve results.

Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication adviser specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Learn more at and

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