How to Create a Life-Changing Presentation

This is a guest post by John Richardson. He is an author, speaker, and digital media creator. You can explore his blog and follow him on Twitter. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

The side lights dim in the auditorium and the speaker walks on stage. As they are introduced you notice something different about them. The way they are dressed commands your attention. They start to speak and you are quickly drawn into a powerful story. There is drama, tension, and intrigue.

Abstract Blue Sparks - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #15137495

Photo courtesy of ©

Soon you are tracking with them. You can relate to their struggles and you marvel at their tenacity. Soon they share how they overcame obstacles and found a way to prosper. And then they do something amazing. They offer to share their secret with you.

You want to know more. You’ve been where they are, you’ve fought the battle, but you haven’t found a solution. As the speaker goes on, they mention they have a book and a step by step course of action you can take to change your own life.

In your mind, you know one thing. You’re not leaving until you have the answer. You pick up the book, follow the instructions, and your life changes.

Have you been there? Have you heard that presentation? Has your life changed?

My name is John Richardson and I’ve been part of a public speaking organization called Toastmasters International for over fifteen years. In that time I’ve heard hundreds of speeches and presentations, from short five-minute monologues to ninety minute keynotes. Yet in that time I’ve only heard about a dozen, truly motivational presentations. Ones that change your life.

As a speaker, I’ve always wanted to be able to give that kind of presentation. To reach deep down inside and share from the heart. To actually be able to motivate people to change their lives for the better. In my journey, I’ve become a student of speaking and motivational styles. I’ve tried many different things and failed many times, yet a few things emerged that I would like to share with you today. If you are a speaker and want to change the world, you’ll definitely need SPARK.

S.P.A.R.K is…

  1. Senses: To build rapport with your audience you’ll need to activate their senses. My speaking friend, Sheryl Roush is a master at this. She starts way before the presentation begins. She knows that her audience will have three major learning styles. There are…
    • Visual learners. They intake information by what they see;
    • Audio learners. They intake information by what they hear; and
    • Kinesthetic learners. They intake information by what they feel.

    Sheryl always arrives at least an hour early. She has bright colored visuals in the form of PowerPoint slides or flip charts. She puts on background music for the audio people as they arrive. She has handouts ready for her kinesthetic guests. But Sheryl goes even further by heating up Chocolate Chip cookies and walking them through the room to add a pleasant aroma. She even adds powerful words and numbers to her slides for the analytics.

    Sheryl’s presentations are a sensory joy. She always dresses in bright colors and has a very professional and commanding presence. You know right away who the speaker is. No matter what your learning style is, you’ll come away impressed by her speech.

  2. Purpose: People need to know why you are speaking to them. They need to know your purpose. Simon Sinek in his masterful TED speech suggests that we Start with Why. Most speakers start with what or how, but if you can get to the core, and share your why, you’ll have a chance to really impact your audience.

    When you share your why, it affects the part of the brain that deals with emotion. This is a deep set part of the brain can really motivate your audience, yet that part of the brain doesn’t work with words. Your audience may be motivated to action but may not be able to formulate words to describe it.

  3. Act it out with stories: The best speakers I know are really actors in disguise. Their presentations are almost like going to a play. They come out from behind a podium and share powerful stories with emotion and action. There is drama and intrigue as they share powerful action words with passion. Their vocal variety is enormous.

    Stories like this are what will truly bring your audience in. They need to include all the senses. Your audience needs to see, hear and feel what is going on.

  4. Relate: Stories should relate to your particular audience. Make them conversational and personal. Show us the dark days. Show us your failures. Be real. Almost all of the truly motivational speeches take us into the pain and agony of a situation and contrast it with a solution or new reality. The greater the contrast, the greater the audience impact.

    Nancy Duarte illustrates this concept powerfully in her video post on Presentation Contrast. Contrast is like a sine wave, alternating between what is and what can be. As Nancy shares, if you truly want to change the world, take an idea, add contrast, and share it with others.

  5. Knowledge: The best presentations offer something new and unique. There is nothing cliché about them. They offer a take-away, whether that is a handout, book, or video. The audience member has a chance to gain further knowledge. Authors have a definite advantage here. Having a book to sell or a seminar to attend, is a great way to effect change.

Creating a powerful and motivating presentation takes a lot of time, effort, and practice. A great place to start is a local Toastmasters club where you can learn speaking and leadership skills and be able to practice and refine your speech. If you truly want to get up to speed quickly, Ken Davis and Michael Hyatt’s SCORRE conference can teach you powerful presentation skills in just a few days. You’ll be ready for the platform in no time.

Question: What speakers have you heard that truly motivated you to take action? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Indrajeet ‘Inder’ Pawar

    Greatly appreciated the creativity and ideas presented here. Since I speak mostly in India the point about ‘storytelling’ was most relevant. However I am also aware that the greatest need in public speaking or preaching (which is what I most do) is the ‘anointing’ of God. That style is secondary to unction as underlined by Leionard Ravenhill when he said, ”
    If God has called us preachers to the ministry, then we should get unctionized. With all thy getting–get unction, lest barrenness will be the badge of our unctionless intellectualism.” (

  • Kjreusser

    Joining Toastmasters made the turning point in my career as a speaker/author of chn’s books. Everything I read said I’d have to become a public speaker to progress my career and reluctantly I joined TM, terrified everyone would make fun of me. They did not and it was one of the friendliest groups I’ve ever been in. I was in it for 6 yrs and finally felt good enough to go on my own as a speaker. I’m no longer afraid of groups and have booked several meetings this yr to speak to children and adults. I’m excited about it! Thanks for this post as a reminder of what TM can do for someone.

    • John Richardson

      Toastmaster’s is a great organization. I’ve seen amazing changes in people after one or two speeches. To overcome the fear of speaking in public is very enabling. For me, it gave me confidence that I didn’t know I had.

  • elisa freschi

    Thank you for the post, Mr. Richardson. I disagree with most of your points and would be very glad to read your answer to my doubts concerning your method. Personally I dislike being distracted by something which has little or  nothing to do with what I want to learn from a presentation. Hence, please no cookies, no music and no pictures of landscapes or the like (if I arrive early, I want to focus on the topic, read my notes, finish reading a book, tipping ideas on my laptop, etc., thus, please no distractions!). Further, I do not go to a presentation as if I were going to the cinema. I do not want to be *chiefly* entertained (entertainement might be needed in order not to fall asleep, but is not the main point). Last, I am not interested in the story of someone who is not a friend or a relative. Why should I bother listening to someone’s conjugal problems or the like? I rather prefer to hear about the general point which is being made. Stories can be told to small children.
    I wonder if this attitude of mine depends more on the fact that I was trained in
    Europe or more on the fact that I am an academic. Anyway, I do not like being treated as if I were a child who needs everything to look nicer than it is. My favourite presentations have been challenging and intellectually intriguing rather than entertaining.
    Do you take into consideration this kind of expectations?

    • John Richardson

      As a technical person, I can see where you are coming from. It’s kind of a Joe Friday approach… just the facts please. I’ve been in a lot of frustrating presentations that I imagine you are thinking of, where the speaker stands in front of the audience and reads each and every one of their slides. They add clever animations and maybe even a sound effect. It takes an hour to go through and wastes your time. In that case, just give me the documentation. I can read it myself and get back to work.

      On the other hand, can you imagine Steve Jobs just reading a fact sheet about the iPad, iPhone, or iPod. “This is a tablet, running at 1 GHZ with 16 gig of Ram”… No… He added emotion, stories, and a personal touch. He described products that no one had seen before, and showed everyone how they could be used. Each of his presentations was a sensory delight, with colorful visuals, incredible sound effects, and hands on demonstrations. 

      For example, when he showed Garage Band, music filled the air. Music you could make yourself. He showed children using the software as well as students, teachers, and musicians. I was absolutely blown away how cool that program was. I’ve always wanted to be a musician, but I didn’t have the talent. Now I could have a tool that would enable me to make my own music. That’s why I stood in line for three hours to get one.

      Had he just given the facts… ho hum.. and iPad is a net-book without the keyboard. But Steve gave us a life changing, emotion filled, sensory enabled, experience. He shared his vision with us. As someone in education, I see how this vision is changing the lives of children in a very real way, everyday!

      • Michael Hyatt

        Well said, John. Thanks.

  • Uma Maheswaran S

    Thanks for the suggestion of Toastmasters Club. I heard that they are active here in India too.

    • John Richardson

      TM has clubs all over the world. It’s interesting that many of the members of our local TM club are from India. They come to Toastmasters to learn to speak in front of groups and better communicate in English. Many are technical people that have to give presentations as part of their jobs. Through practice, and helpful evaluations, their presentations have become masterful. I don’t think I’ve seen a greater change in any group, than my friends from India. 

      • Uma Maheswaran S

        Thanks John! That was encouraging.

        Subject: [mhyatt] Re: How to Create a Life-Changing Presentation

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  • Bethany Jett

    I’m leading two workshops next Saturday, and can’t wait to use your advice as I prep. I’m even more excited now that I have some concrete ideas to include. I know it’s going to be great! Thank you so much!