It’s well-known that you should outline the key points of a speech or presentation before delivering it. But speech coach Gary Genard says it’s more complicated than that. You need two outlines. “And the distinction between them makes all the difference when it comes to performing dynamically for an audience,” he writes on his blog.

The first is the preparation outline, writing out full sentences to convey your thoughts on the topic. You are thinking through what you will say and don’t want to short-circuit that by just scribbling down some terse talking points. “Actually writing everything out is a way to cement those ideas in your head,” he says.

The result – and it will take some time – should be a well-formulated, coherent and logically-sound presentation. Holes in your thinking and other flaws will stick out so you can fix them.

Now that you have refined your thinking, you want to trim that back for your speaking outline, in effect liberating you from all those precise sentences to be more spontaneous and natural. Boil the thought process down to the key points that will move your audience. “Remember: We write in sentences, but we speak in ideas and emotions. This is the mistake too many speakers make: They read the literary document in front of them, instead of expressing themselves through the medium of well-thought-out conversation,” he says. As well, with only key words and phrases in front of you, you won’t be looking down at a speech the whole time but instead at the eyes of the audience.

Another tip for preparing your talk is to go to a bar. Presentations – even status updates – work best when they are framed as stories. But we’re all a little unsure about how to turn our ideas into stories. So test them – Nicole Khan, the former senior director of IDEO’s Design for Change studio calls it “the bar test” – by presenting it to folks at a local watering hole.

“Bars are friendly, social places, sure, but something really important happens when you’re at a bar,” she told First Round Review. “You use really direct language. You make sure that what you’re saying is entertaining and engaging. You don’t quote tons of data. You don’t use overly corporate language – except maybe in air quotes.”

Of course, you can try the technique at places other than bars. IDEO designers try it with colleagues and even strangers. “We tell them our story. We verbalize it. We grab a colleague who’s completely unfamiliar with what we’re doing and buy them a beer or a coffee and spend 15 minutes to see if they understand the point of the presentation,” she says.

She stresses that you should be watching the other person carefully. When do they lean in, figuratively or actually? When do they look bored or confused? It won’t take a long time – 15 minutes perhaps – but it’s an important step for building what she calls the skeleton of your story.

She also urges you to scatter moments of reflection throughout your presentation to grab attention and create intimacy with your audience. That might involve telling your audience how you feel in order to cue them to feel a certain way. For example: “I knew we were onto something the moment I met Sandy and she said this one thing.” Or tell your audience, “This is a point that is important to me.” Another grabber: “This is where a lot of clients get stuck.”

Try these outline and storytelling tips to spice up your next presentation.


  • To avoid being distracted by Outlook notifications 15 minutes before an in-house meeting, Cube Rules blogger Scot Herrick advises you to go into your Options for the calendar and set the default to five minutes, when you would actually be leaving your desk. If a notification set up by somebody else pops up, snooze it to zero minutes before the meeting.
  • A good way to motivate yourself to do work you don’t want to is committing to a deadline, advises productivity coach Ann Gomez. Also: Pair it with something you like. Avoiding giving feedback to a colleague? Do it over a lunch.
  • You naturally will notice what’s wrong – disappointments. Train yourself to notice what’s working and what opportunities exist to move forward, says coach Dan Rockwell. “Disappointment thinking empowers the past to control the present,” he warns.
  • Keep in touch with former bosses to smooth the way to positive references, advises career counsellors Allison & Taylor Inc. That increases the chances they will respond to a call from a possible employer – it would be a black mark if they didn’t – and they will be up-to-date when being interviewed.
  • You can’t do anything without self-confidence says Natalia Brzezinski, CEO of the Brilliant Minds Foundation which looks at convergence of humanity and technology. On almost a daily basis, she tells “the little girl inside me” that she is not just “good enough” but is strong, amazing – one in a million.

The Globe and Mail, January 9, 2020