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If you want to be a great presenter,

work on 3 things: resonance, design and delivery.

It also helps to study great presentations, like these TED Talks.


I've borrowed the title "Resonance" from Nancy Duarte, founder of (a presentation company) and a leading expert on presentation along with Garr Reynolds, author of Presentation Zen. Nancy wrote Harvard Business Review's guide to Persuasive Presentations, and three additional books: Slideology, Resonate and Illuminate. Resonate is the perfect title because resonance is what every presenter wants.

As we consider resonance, there are three main areas where we'll focus our lessons about how to resonate with audiences: purpose, persuasion, and stickiness. But first, a word about why resonance is so critical in general.

Duarte says resonance leads to change. If you're presenting information to an audience, you're selling something: an idea, a product, a service--something that leads to a different way of thinking, or an action like purchasing your product or service. But audience members (just like objects) tend to remain at rest unless some compelling force moves them to action, to change.

When something resonates with us, we feel it. We are impacted by it. It has the power to create a reaction in us. If those are the results you're going for, as a presenter, three foundational underpinnings for your message are (1) knowing your purpose & audience, (2) being persuasive, and (3) having your message stick. 

1. Know your Purpose & Audience

Effective communicators always start with purpose and audience. First, you have to know your goal. What are you trying to achieve? Second, you have to appreciate the demographics of your audience.

Garr Reynolds reframes these as So what? Who cares?

So what? (purpose)   If you are to achieve your goal as a presenter...
Who cares? (audience) have to make me care, as an audience member.


Knowing your purpose gives you clarity and fuels your passion. Why does your presentation matter? What is the one key takeaway? You don’t have to state your purpose explicitly (Ladies and gentlemen the purpose of my being here today is…), but you can. If you don’t, it still needs to be clear from the content, delivery, and design of your message.

Knowing your audience means tapping into what interests them, what they care about, their fears, their wants, their concerns, their problems. Don't talk over their heads, and don’t talk below them. Meet them where they are.

A presentation is a partnership between the presenter and the audience. Great presentations are not about making the speaker look good. They are about offering value to the audience. Donald Miller says in his Storybrand workshops that the audience is the hero.. The speaker is the mentor. Like a good mentor, a good presenter knows her audience, cares about her audience, and seeks to give value to her audience. The better you know them, the more accurately you can choose content, visuals and illustrations that appeal to them.

Nothing bolsters your confidence like an engaged audience. You’ll feel the energy when an audience is truly interested and engaged in your content.

"What could be" vs. "What currently is" In Nancy Duarte's TED Talk, The secret structure of great talks, she says  great presenters like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Steve Jobs take audience needs/wants heavily into consideration when they use a tension of "what could be" vs. "what currently is."

Benefits are key. You must stress the benefits to your audience if you want your audience to care about your message. What's in it for them? Knowing them well enough to answer that question helps you design a message that resonates with them and has the power to persuade them.

2.  Appreciate the Elements of Persuasion: Ethos, Pathos, Logos

Every presentation is a sales pitch. You are convincing someone of something. You want the listener to buy what you're selling, adopt your way of thinking, believe something about you--that you are worthy of listening to, worthy of hiring, partnering with, investing in--something.

Aristotle said there were three elements of persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos. 


Ethos, Pathos, Logos: 3 pillars of public speaking by Andrew Dlugan

Ethos is credibility.

Without credibility, your chances of persuading are poor.


See more about credibility on the topic of Professionalism.

Preparation is key to credibility. Your audience will know if you have prepared--and respect you for it--or if you haven’t--and will resent the misuse of their time.

If you speak to an audience of 20 people for 30 minutes, that is 600 minutes of collective time. If you’re a professional and speak to an audience of 1,000 for 60 minutes, that is 60,000 minutes of people’s time! Time is precious. Don’t disrespect your audience’s time by under-preparing.

There is no substitute for preparation. It is the number one way to boost your confidence and credibility. Using timely tie-ins, like weaving current news stories and/or world events into your presentation, is another way to lend interest and credibility.

Pathos is emotion.

To truly connect with an audience, you must remember they have hearts. Tap into their heartstrings. Help them feel, taste, touch, hear and experience how your message, product or service has the power to impact them positively, or how the lack of it might impact them negatively.

Here are two of my favorite examples of an emotional message:

Dove's Real Beauty Campaign "You're more beautiful than you think"

Volkswagen’s Darth Vader Commercial, Superbowl 2011

Duarte talks about the impact of STAR moments: something they’ll always remember. Here are two TED Talks that include examples of STAR moments:

My stroke of insight (Jill Bolte Taylor_18.:34_brings a human brain on stage)

Mosquitos, malaria, and education (Bill Gates_20:13_releases mosquitos into the audience)

A word on humor. Humor can be an especially powerful emotion to tap into. But nothing backfires more quickly than a planned joke gone awry, that no one laughs at or only laughs at out of sympathy for the speaker who delivered it poorly. If you’re really funny (meaning, you’re not the only one who thinks so) and you can use humor at no one else’s expense, then by all means, be yourself. But if there is any question as to your true comic genius in front of a crowd, or if your “jokes” put anyone in an unfavorable light, don’t use humor.

Self-deprecating humor can endear you to your audience, but you don’t want to sabotage your credibility for the sake of trying to manufacture a laugh. It will show.

Logos is logic.

To truly convince an audience, you must remember they have heads. Appeal to their sense of intelligence and intuition. Show them the tangible benefit.

Examples of logical arguments:

"I can show you how to save $50 on your next grocery bill. Interested?"

"Want to double the number of visitors to your website? I can show you how."

To craft an effective logical argument, answer three questions:

  • What is my position?

  • Why?

  • Where is the evidence that supports it?

Evidence and objections are key considerations in logic. Where lies the evidence for your claims? And what are the objections? When you acknowledge the objections to your arguments and give logical explanations to address them, you stand a better chance of winning your audience over.

Persuasive messages abound in the workplace. Recommendations, requests, proposals, grants, claims and sales messages all require persuasion.

Advertisers and marketers lean heavily on the elements of persuasion. A common advertising acronym is AIDA:


gain Attention
build Interest
create Desire
motivate to Action

3. Use Sticky Principles

You want to craft messages that not only resonate, but will be remembered. Brothers Chip and Dan Heath wrote a book called Made to Stick  where they outline six “sticky principles” that make messages more memorable.


If you need to be convinced that simplicity is powerful, just look at Apple. No company does a better job of boiling its messages and products down to the basic, most user-friendly essentials. Check out this TED link on Steve Jobs’ speaking techniques. His attire was also simple. He typically wore jeans and a black turtleneck.

Garr Reynolds, author of Presentation Zen, gives great advice on simplistic designs and delivery techniques.



It makes sense that unexpected messages stick with us. The unexpected holds the element of surprise, which is attention-getting. Sometimes personal testimonies have unexpected elements. I recently heard a woman speak who grew up in an 1800s home once owned by Jesse James’ uncle. That’s pretty unusual. It was a brief, yet interesting, fact that stayed with me.



Concrete things are tangible objects, visual aids, items that can be shown, held, viewed, or touched. Even concrete language is powerful. Garr Reynolds uses an illustration from the space program. JFK said, “Let’s put a man on the moon.” That’s concrete language.


A confident speaker is a credible speaker. Confidence is not arrogance. It’s a quiet air of authority that comes from being prepared and having the credentials, the title, or the experience level to be authoritative. Christ is described this way, as one who spoke with "authority."


In his book, Writing for Emotional Impact, Karl Iglesias says movie patrons pay to feel. We don’t pay to be entertained or educated; rather, we pay to laugh, cry, fall in love, sit on the edge of our seats, or be terrified. We pay to feel.



Stories are engaging. We relate to stories. They are illustrations of the human experience. Stories are one of the best ways to tap the heart of an audience. Every great speaker--ever--has used stories.

Additional presentation skills Content


TED Talk Links


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