1. Know your audience
Gather as much information as you can about the audience that you will be speaking to. If you have some understanding of their experience you are less likely to bore them or even worse, patronise them. Think about what you would like them to learn from you and also consider what they might be hoping to learn from you. Sometimes the members of your audience are there because they have no choice - like a school INSET training arranged by one member of staff but attended by all. Sadly this means that some of your audience members might bring pre-conceived ideas about you and your topic.
Try to find out the expected size of audience. Your topic wont be affected by how big the audience will be but it will influence any interactive audience participation you include. A smaller audience is easier to manage with activities e.g. discuss ideas with fellow attendees or matching cards. With a bigger audience tasks can take too long and simply not flow as effectively.
2. Work out your timings
Establish how long your talk or training session is going to be then split up the time into bitesize chunks building in time (if appropriate) for rest breaks and lunch. A recent talk I've been planning is for a 45 minute slot. I've split this into 3 x 15 minute sections, then I've spilt that again into 3 x 5 mins per 15 minute section. This will help me to keep my talk moving rather than me getting carried away telling a great story and spending my whole time slot on one thing. When I deliver a whole training day I tend to break the day up into 4 x 1.5 hour sessions with coffee breaks and lunch in-between. When you split up your time it enables you to work on different parts of your talk independently, you'll feel less overwhelmed and can focus on the details.
3. Change it up
Irrelevant of the length of your talk, you must find ways to vary your presentation. Include stories - both real and hypothetical, give real-life examples, use metaphors, give statistics, include new ideas and concepts. Use powerpoint, a flip chart, music or video clips or some props. Use your voice and body to entertain and engage as well as deliver. Take the audience on a journey. Don't be too random. Don't be repetitive (unless its a specific strategy). Make your delivery as relevant and real to your audience as you can.
4. Visualise the outcome
Spend some time thinking about what you want the audience members to think, say and do after your talk. Imagine them talking to one another about how you've inspired them to take action or you've helped them reach a new level of understanding in the topic. Then reverse-engineer this to consider whether you've included what they need to achieve these outcomes. If you haven't - go back and revise your content or style.
5. Write it as if you were going to publish it
You need to be realistic with how much time you put into your talk but it goes without saying that the more care you put into writing and rehearsing it, the better it will be. When I write a new talk or training session I write it as if I'm having it published. This makes me think in more detail and it gives me material that I can repurpose in blogs and books.
Plan out in note form, write out fully, then create slides and start rehearsing. It's important that you revisit your talk at a later date, perhaps after a week to look at it with fresh eyes. Sometimes content makes perfect sense when you create it but when you come back to it even you can no longer understand what you meant.
Many people say that your slides should be minimal - just an image or a couple of keywords per slide. Whilst I do agree there is nothing wrong with having more content on your slides if it helps you. In my early days I used to put my entire transcript on the slides and I would make a joke to the audience that the full content was there so that if my mind suddenly went blank I would be able to recover myself by looking at the screen (and once this actually happened).
6. Prepare and be prepared
Before your talk or training session arrive early enough to get set up and ready to go. Anticipate that everything that could go wrong might actually go wrong. I've arrived at venues to find every disaster you could imagine: no audience, an audience of 100 when I expected 20, no seating, inappropriate seating, no tables, dirty tables, no technology, broken technology, no flipchart, no flipchart pens, no windows, searing heat, no heat... you think of it and I'm telling you - I've encountered it! So now I always make sure that I'm self-sufficient just-in-case. I take my own bottle of water, hard copy printed notes in case the technology fails and I plan a version of my talk that I can confidently deliver with no support materials and crappy circumstances. Please don't freak out - most venues are pure luxury and you're made to feel like a star - but I've done literally hundreds of talks and training sessions so statistically I was always going to luck out.
Is there anything I've missed out? Probably - there's a lot to think about when you want to give a really high quality talk.
Tell me in the comments: What's your top tip for talk preparation?