How to create a presentation – the whole process from scratch

How to approach creating a presentation? Where to start? What steps to take to make it well? That’s what today’s article is about. I will show you what a proper process of creating a presentation from A to Z, in line with recommended standards, looks like.

One of the most common mistakes I see in the world of presentations is that presentations are often created in a “chaotic” mode. Presentation creators explain this differently, of course: they say they are created spontaneously. You might agree that spontaneity sounds better than the term “chaos.” However, too often one equates to the other. In presentations, spontaneity leads to chaos. Good presentations are the result of a process. The better you master this process, the better presentations you will create. What is this process? Let’s start from the beginning.

Step 1: Gather Material

This step, which I deliberately call “gather” material, not “collect” material, should be an ongoing and never-ending process. You gather materials for a corporate presentation about sales results for the last quarter differently than you would for a conference presentation, sales presentation, motivational presentation, or training. Presentations of this kind require deep thought. Reflecting on the structure and the overall idea of the presentation. They require a broader perspective and a greater number of potential arguments, so that in the further processing stage, you can select the best ones.

This is a key stage in working on presentations. It’s completely overlooked by “Sunday presenters.” Those who only start searching for arguments, stories, anecdotes, images, videos that could be useful in their presentation when they are tasked with creating it. The best presenters do it differently. They constantly gather such potential scraps. I dare say that this difference is what most determines why some speakers shine and become stars at the same conferences, while others exit the stage to the sound of mumbled applause.

So, gather potential anecdotes, interesting facts, images, videos that will support the points in your presentation. You never know which ones might come in handy. But the more you have, the greater the potential you have to back up your presentation.

Step 2: Define the Audience

An important step in creating a presentation is understanding who you are preparing it for. The audience of the presentation has a crucial impact on the content, style, and message. Think about who will be listening to your presentation. Are they experts in the field who need deeper information? Or perhaps individuals from various backgrounds who need to understand the topic generally? Tailoring the presentation to the expectations and level of knowledge of the audience will make the message more comprehensible and interesting to them.

And even more importantly, what are the general expectations of your audience? What would they like to learn? What is their level of knowledge? What do they like and dislike? The more you know about them, the better presentation you can create – because you’ll adjust it to their individual preferences. Of course, it’s challenging to design a presentation for 300 people, but certain common characteristics and interests can exist (if they attend an industry conference). When the presentation is in front of a handful of people, it’s much easier to thoroughly examine the preferences of the audience. Check out THIS ARTICLE on our blog about how Peter Coughter utilized a masterful approach to persuade his audience to sign contracts with his company. Spoiler: a key aspect was a precise understanding of who his audience was.

Step 3: Define the Purpose of Your Presentation

Clearly define what you want to achieve with your presentation. Is the goal to convey information, persuade towards a certain viewpoint, encourage action, or provide entertainment? Your goals will influence how you develop the content and which arguments you use. When you have a clearly defined goal, it will be easier for you to focus on the essential aspects and avoid unnecessary distractions.

Defining the purpose of your presentation is often overlooked in the process of creating it. However, without a defined purpose, you won’t know where you are heading. I like to remind people of one of Stephen Covey’s best pieces of advice: Begin with the end in mind. If you know from the beginning what you want your audience to do after your presentation, it will be easier to guide the narrative in the right direction.

Step 4: Define the Presentation Context

Before creating the presentation, consider the context in which it will be delivered. Will it be a conference room, or perhaps a more informal meeting? Will it be a meeting for 3 people or maybe 300 people? In the first case, you can have less text on the slides, whereas in the second case, you must ensure that every word on the slides is large enough and visible to everyone in the room. Or maybe it will be a presentation not delivered in person, but sent via email? In that case, you need to have more text on the slides; otherwise, your audience won’t understand what you are trying to convey. For presentations that you deliver in person, there doesn’t have to be much text on the slides – after all, you’ll be leading the narrative with your own words.

Additionally, it’s worth knowing the expectations regarding the presentation’s duration. This is important because it will impact how you adjust the pace and level of detail in the content.

Step 5: Define the Thesis of Your Presentation

The thesis is the main point you want to convey in your presentation. It’s a specific idea that will focus the content and ensure coherence. Your thesis should be clear, concise, and appropriately balanced. By sticking to the main thesis, you’ll avoid discrepancies in the content and make the presentation more convincing.

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to the market, he titled his presentation “Apple reinvents the phone.” This was not only the thesis of the presentation but also its title. Moreover, Jobs repeated this phrase several times during his hour-long presentation. The result? Hundreds, if not thousands, of headlines in newspapers, blog articles, and TV news reports all had exactly the same title: “Apple reinvents the phone.”

The human mind operates on the path of least resistance. If you present your audience with a coherent, simple, and easily memorable thesis – they’ll embrace it and carry it forward into the world.

Step 6: Begin Outlining the Structure

It’s not yet time to open PowerPoint. For now, you need to arrange a preliminary structure for your presentation from the gathered material. A piece of paper, a pencil, or a pen will come in handy. Alternatively, something to write on and sticky notes. Imagine each note as your slide, and you can write down the idea that you’ll present on that slide. You can attach these notes to your desk or a wall or a flip chart. While considering different options for the presentation’s structure, you can easily move these notes from one place to another. This way, when you look at the overall presentation scheme from a distance, you’ll see more: what needs to change, how to arrange the sequence of topics, and what element is missing in the presentation. You might realize that there’s not enough humor? Or a strong argument is missing somewhere? It’s all as clear as day when we look at our presentation from a distance.

You can achieve a similar effect if you’ve already started inputting ideas for slides directly into PowerPoint. There’s a feature called “Slide Sorter” under the “View” tab. Enable it, and you’ll see your presentation in this broad view – each slide as a small post-it tile.

Alternatively, if you prefer to work digitally from the start, you might find the application Miro useful. I often use it myself. This application allows you to create mind maps and arrange virtual post-it notes on a board. The effect is similar to real post-it notes.

Nonetheless, remember that all presentation gurus recommend working in an analog way, not digitally, at this stage – there’s a reason why a hand connected to a pen and paper boosts creativity. I’ve tested it many times, and it’s true. So, when time isn’t pressing, I sketch my initial presentation ideas and structure on pieces of paper.

Step 7: Test Your Delivery

When you have a general outline of how your presentation will look, you might be tempted to start creating slides. I recommend holding off and, instead, start delivering the presentation. It’s best to do it out loud, so you can hear yourself. By hearing yourself transition from one topic to another, you’ll notice inconsistencies, gaps, and shortcomings. That’s the goal at this stage. Improve the narrative, rearrange the topics accordingly, fill in gaps, and search for better arguments if the ones you have are hard to express. Only when you’ve delivered your trial presentation without slides and are reasonably satisfied with your performance, move on to the next stage, which is working on the slides.

Step 8: Start Writing Slide Texts

Now you can translate your ideas into concrete slides. Focus on creating short, concise sentences that support what you are saying. Avoid an excess of text on the slides – they should be readable and serve as support for the audience, not a replacement for your speech. However, maintain the appropriate proportions. If you are creating a presentation for a conference in front of a few hundred people, there should be as little text as possible – single phrases, single words, and sometimes even no text at all, just a striking image across the entire slide space. This convention suits presentations of this type, which I call “stage presentations.”

There are also business presentations, for smaller meetings, often dealing with more in-depth topics. These presentations might include tables, graphs, and a bit more text. But not too much – because you, as the presenter, will talk about the most important issues in your own words; the audience doesn’t need to read everything from the slides.

Yet another type is slide-doc presentations (sometimes referred to as slideuments in Poland). These are document-style presentations. They are not personally presented, but sent to the audience via email for them to read on their computers (or after printing). Such slides obviously need more text.

Step 9: Begin Designing the Slides

The next step is graphic design of the slides. You can do this step yourself, or you can seek help from professionals. For instance, us, at the Presentation Studio. If you decide to do the design yourself and you’re not a designer, remember to create slides with simplicity in mind. The current graphic canon emphasizes simplicity, minimalism, order, symmetry, and visual lightness. 

Step 10: Rehearse Your Presentation

The final step is rehearsing the presentation. A dress rehearsal the day before the performance will give you confidence and make your presentation smoother and more convincing when you’re in front of the audience. You can rehearse in front of a family member, colleagues, or record yourself with your phone. I strongly recommend the latter over practicing in front of a mirror. When practicing in front of a mirror, most people struggle to focus on delivering the presentation – their own reflection distracts them. The simple method of recording yourself on your phone is the best.

If you want to learn more presentation secrets, download my free ebook “21 Golden Rules of Business Presentations.” It’s available HERE>

And if you want to elevate your presentation skills to the next level, ask me about my presentation trainings. For example, the Business PowerPoint training or the comprehensive, multi-module PowerPoint 360 Presentation training.