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Learn how to create and use community presentations to spread awareness and engage community members.


  • What is a community presentation?

  • Why should you make community presentations?

  • When should you make community presentations?

  • How do you make community presentations?


Photo of a blank canvas hanging on a brick wall with exposed lightbulbs around it, suspended from the ceiling.


What is a community presentation?

One very effective way to educate and involve people in your community is to make a presentation. A "community presentation" is a live, face-to-face description of your viewpoint to a local group. Community presentations can be done in many formats -- through public speeches, informal talks, town meetings, debates, workshops, or seminars. This is just a partial list.

But all these presentation formats have qualities in common. First, their purpose is to discuss problems, issues, action plans, or goals for the community. And second, their success (and yours) will depend upon use of some basic principles of communication, which we plan to describe in this Tool Box section.

Have you ever fantasized about giving a presentation and receiving loud cheers and a standing ovation? In real life, you may not always be able to move people to their feet; but with preparation and practice, you can certainly become more skilled at moving their hearts and minds closer to your point of view.

Why should you make community presentations?

  • To increase community awareness and understanding of your issues
  • To increase community awareness and understanding of you and your group
  • To increase community support for you and your group
  • To encourage community involvement and action regarding your cause

When should you make community presentations?

So when should you make these presentations? Some situations will certainly be better than others. And among the best situations are when:

  • Community awareness or knowledge about the issue is low
  • You have new or important information about the issue to present
  • The community is receptive to such information, and not locked into an opposing position
  • Action needs to be taken quickly

How do you make community presentations?

Stare into your past, and you probably have some presentation experience, of one kind or another. You may have made presentations at work, for school, or for a community organization you have belonged to. So chances are you already know a few of the basics. But can you increase your current presentation ability, and move up to the next level of skill? We think so.

A successful community presentation has three key elements, or stages: the right background conditions, the right preparation, and the right delivery. Each of these stages has several steps within it. The stages, and the steps, are described below, in order:

Decide on the best communication format

Many different formats for getting your message across are available to you. Certainly, using advertising, local radio or television announcements, mass mailings, door-to-door solicitations, telephone calls, and personal invitations can all be important parts of your communication strategy. You may also want to consider holding town meetings, public forums, listening sessions, seminars, or workshops to discuss issues, goals, and action plans.

Check on who the audience will be

Ask yourself: "Who is likely to attend this presentation?" This is important, because you will want to address their particular needs and concerns. If you expect neighborhood activists, that's one type of audience. If you expect local businessmen, that may be another situation entirely. What you say, and how you say it, may need to vary accordingly, sometimes by quite a bit.

If you were invited to speak by a particular group (the League of Women Voters, the interfaith association, the local hospital) that invitation will certainly give you a clue. If there's no specific sponsor, you can still make a best guess of your audience, based on your knowledge of the community and on attendance at past presentations. You can also ask other well-placed community members for their insights.

Here are some more specific questions you should ask yourself (and possibly others) about your prospective audience:

  • What will be the audience's likely age range? Education level? Values? Cultural or ethnic background?
  • How have you been described to them?
  • How interested are they in your topic?
  • What (and how much) do they already know about it?
  • What does the audience expect of you?
  • What do they expect from your presentation?

Recruit the audience members you want

Now, ask yourself: "Who do I want to be there?" over and above those who are likely to come. This is especially important, because you can try to recruit those people. You can do this indirectly, by publicizing your presentation to your desired target groups. Or you (or your supporters) can do it directly by individual letter, by phone, or in person.

Are you talking about street safety?   Recruit crime watch leaders.

...about childhood diseases? Recruit school health nurses.

...about youth sports? Recruit youth leaders and coaches.

Know the presentation setting

In addition to information about your audience, you should also learn about the location and setting of your presentation. For example, how big is the room? How will the room be set up? What audio-visual equipment is available?

The right physical arrangements can go a long way toward ensuring your success. Here is some specific advice:

  • Visit the room well ahead of time. Check the seating arrangements, your own speaker's position, and anything else in the environment that will make a difference to you (such as electrical outlets, lighting controls, ventilation). If you have recommendations for changes, don't be shy; make them; then do your best to see they get attended to.
  • Make sure you have the audio-visual equipment you need. Learn how it works; make sure it is working. Try it out a few days before your presentation, and just before the presentation itself, to reduce the chance of equipment failure. (If using projectors, have a spare bulb on hand.)
  • Find out who can help you with last-minute room arrangements or equipment adjustments. Try to make sure that person will be there before the presentation starts. More than one presentation has suffered because someone forgot the key to the room; don't let this happen to you!

The right preparation:

Now you are ready to plan the presentation.

Clarify your objectives

Before you present to the community, you need to be clear on exactly what you want to get across. What is the basic objective you want to achieve?

For example, you may be trying to gather support for a program to inspect older houses for lead paint. Your specific objective might be to convince the town to fund this program and begin it within six months. (Tip: It helps to write your objectives down.)

How can your presentation help reach this objective? You might decide to speak on lead poisoning of young children in your community. A well-done presentation here could convince others about inspections. In that case, you'll need to decide on the key points you want to make about lead poisoning. These should be directly related to the inspection program you are advocating.

Write down these points. This will help you focus your presentation outline, which is the next step coming up.

Develop an outline

Just as in other presentations you may have done, you will want to develop an outline covering your main points or issues. Your outline is the overall plan that will guide you through your presentation.

Presentation outlines often have a similar sequence, which commonly includes:

  • A general overview
  • A history or background of the issue
  • A description of the current situation or problem
  • Your proposed solutions -- often together with requests for action
  • A summary

Will this sequence work for you? Very likely so. But if you think a different sequence would be better, then by all means try it out.

The content of your outline should be based on your objectives above, and include the main points you want to get across. For more, see Heading #10, "Bring them to their feet," below.

Select your materials

Now that you have an outline, you need to find and develop materials to include in the content of your presentation. You may want to collect things such as newspaper articles, quotes, reports, data, stories, and anecdotes to support your key points . Even for a 10- or 15-minute presentation, having this material available will help you prepare, and will serve as reference backing if audience members have questions for you.

Next, sort through this material and pick out the best items to use. What is most relevant here? What will best support and enhance your presentation?

Creating Visual Aids: Types and Tips

Visual aids in your presentation can improve your audience's attention, as well as its retention of what you have to say. This is because people remember more if they hear and see something, compared to if they only hear it alone. Good visual aids will be simple, clean, eye-appealing, and easy to see or read. Some types of visual aids you might use are:

  • Chalkboards, or whiteboards. These are especially useful in small groups, and can help with participation and audience interaction.
  • Flipcharts. You can prepare these in advance (with multiple colors), and use them as audience participation tools.
  • Overhead transparencies. These are useful to project hand-drawn images, pictures, and text. You'll need to use an overhead projector. Note that transparencies can also be used to write upon while you talk.
  • 35mm slides. Slides can be made for written information as well as for pictures and graphics. These work well with large audiences, as they can be projected on screens.
  • Handouts. Handouts should be short summaries of the key points and information in your presentation, together with contact addresses and numbers. You can distribute them either before your presentation, so people can look them over and follow technical information, or after your presentation is finished. (Don't hand them out during the presentation, because it will distract people from what you are saying.)
  • Live demonstrations. These can be compelling if they are well-rehearsed and visible by the entire audience.

Whatever visual aids you decide upon, here are some basic rules and tips you can use to design them:

  • Limit each overhead, slide, or poster to one main idea.
  • For each graphic, use no more than 6-8 lines of text.
  • Use key phrases rather than sentences. Use plain language. Avoid jargon.
  • Use bulleted lists for key points.
  • Double-space between lines of text.
  • Use large, bold, serif type fonts. (This font has serifs.)
  • Make sure the audience can read the text. (To check on this, look at the graphic from the back of the room.)
  • As you present a graphic, read and clarify it to your audience.
  • Only show information you plan to discuss.
  • In designing graphics:

    * A horizontal bar chart helps compare one category among several others.

    * A vertical bar chart helps focus attention on change over time.

    * A line graph can be used to show data for several time periods, or trends.

    * A pie chart helps show the amount of each variable as a percent of the total.

  • Turn off the lights on the projector when you have no images to project.
  • Keep any visual aid before the audience only as long as it supports your oral presentation. And don't distract the audience with the next slide or visual aid before you are ready to talk about the material on it. Keep it covered.


The content of your presentation is very important, and well worth spending extra time on. But equally important is the upcoming delivery of the presentation itself. The key to this is simple: practice. The more you practice, the more you will grow comfortable with the material, and the greater your impact will be.

Tips to help you practice effectively

  • Practice in front of a mirror -- you can see your facial expressions, gestures, and stance.
  • Practice in front of others -- family, friends, colleagues, and anyone else who will listen. A live rehearsal is one of the best forms of practice. Hopefully, your practice audience will give you constructive feedback to improve your presentation when the real thing comes.
  • Practice using a video camera or audio recorder -- again, you will be able to see and hear what you are doing well, and what could be improved. (The camera doesn't lie; it's an excellent teaching technique.)
  • Practice reading aloud -- and when you do, practice sounding relaxed and natural, not like you're reading from a script.
  • Practice breathing and relaxing -- as silly as it may sound, when you are nervous, your breathing becomes shallow; this deprives you of oxygen and makes it harder to think clearly.
  • Practice with a clock -- do a practice run-through of your presentation for time, and see how close you are to the time available to you. You don't want your presentation to be either too long or too short.
  • Practice maintaining eye contact with the audience. Don't keep your eyes locked on your notes or one side of the room. Scan the entire audience frequently.
  • Practice paying attention to how your words are delivered. Are you speaking clearly? Are you speaking too rapidly or too slowly? Are you speaking expressively, rather than in a monotone? Once again, feedback from live listeners or from recording equipment will help you here a lot.

Another powerful practice technique is visualization. Visualize yourself giving the actual presentation, with the real audience there. Visualize how you will bring home your ideas, both in your words and in your manner. Play that mental movie, more than once. Experts have learned that this "visual practice" leads to real performance improvement in areas ranging from singing to skiing -- and in community presentations too.

Use your notes

Now comes the time to deliver your presentation. Your message is important, and you're comfortable with the facts. But you will need more than the facts; you will need to connect with and involve your audience as well. How can you educate, and convince, and inspire them around your issues?

If you are an experienced public speaker, or have presented on the same issue many times over, it may be that all you need for your presentation is your basic outline, or even less.

But if you're like most of us, you will have a longer set of notes, or the written-out talk itself. Keep your notes organized and well-ordered, with each main topic on a separate page (or cue card); with clear headings; with large letters; and with different colors to accentuate key points.

Your notes are the basic foundation of your presentation. They will help you be as convincing and inspiring as is possible. Once you are under way, you can stray from your notes to a degree; but it's always good to have them there to return to!

"Bring them to their feet" (Convince your audience)

Speech-making is thousands of years old. There are a lot of tricks of the trade. Let's put them into a nutshell:

  • Your opening sentences are key to grabbing your audience's attention. First impressions count! Your introduction should be memorable, brief, and to the point. Stories, quotes, and sometimes humor are all ways of getting people's attention and keeping it.
  • Once you've gotten attention, let your audience know what to expect. State your purpose, and preview the rest of your talk.
  • Make eye contact with your audience. Connect with them. They will let you know -- by expression and by posture -- how well you are reaching them. Be guided by their feedback, and make mid-course corrections if needed.
  • In the middle of your presentation, present your key facts and ideas. Again, stories, examples, and evidence will help get your message across. But don't waste words, especially if time is short. Make every word count.
  • Evidence is important. Cite facts and figures. Comparisons with other communities are often effective. But don't overwhelm your audience with too much information, because people may tune out. Keep it simple, relevant, and understandable. Some printed literature you bring with you can provide additional details.
  • Make sure to highlight your main points. Underline them, verbally or through your visual aids. And repetition helps, up to a point; repeating your main ideas, in different phrasing, will increase retention.
  • Speak with personal conviction about your topic. You have it; so show it. And you may have emotions as well as convictions. Use them, too -- which doesn't mean you should let every single feeling show. Generally speaking, you should draw upon your emotions, but keep them under control, and put them in the service of your presentation.
  • Your goal may include action; so as you begin to close, show what action is necessary, and why. The desired actions should flow naturally from the evidence you have presented. Make any desired action steps very specific; and show very clearly how audience members might take them.
  • Your closing is at least as important as your opening. Sum up your main points; repeat the need for action; show how your proposed actions are immediate and doable; appeal to the values and concerns you all share; and (at this time, especially) do it with feeling. Aim for a lasting impression here, and end on a high note.

The importance of the issue


Sum up with

Possible actions

Personalize the
Actions we can take

Questions and Answers

Your presentation has ended, and your audience has applauded. Congratulations on a job well done! But the event is not quite over. In the large majority of presentations, the audience will have questions. Your response to those questions can convince many remaining doubters, and bring them over to your side.

The best way to deal with questions? Prepare for them in advance. It's usually not hard to anticipate the questions you're most likely to receive. And if you can do that, you can also prepare general answers to them (once again, notes help), and be ready with them if the question arises. The greater your preparation, the more effective your answer is likely to be.

Some general tips:

  • Listen carefully to each question.
  • Paraphrase the question, to make sure you've heard it right, and for the benefit of those who might not have heard it. Then, respond to the question as asked.
  • Show respect and appreciation for each questioner, even if you think the question is off the mark.
  • Keep your answer relatively short and to the point. (Sometimes a question will give you the chance to make an important point you omitted in your original presentation. In that case, make it briefly. But don't go on too long; other questioners are waiting.)

And some specific situations that may arise:

  • A questioner disagrees with you. This will happen. You can emphasize the areas you do agree upon, while acknowledging that on this particular point you may disagree. Restate the reasons for your position, show understanding of the other's viewpoint, and move on.
  • The questioner gets angry or hostile. The same principles apply. But don't get angry in return. Keep your cool.
  • You don't know the answer. Then say so. You can offer to look it up later, and get back to the questioner. (Sometimes, if you have good factual materials with you, you can look it up on the spot.)
  • A questioner goes off on a tangent. Listen, show understanding of what is being said, and steer the discussion back to your main points. If the questioner persists, repeat the above, thank the questioner, and move on to the next question. Or look to the moderator or host of the event, if there is one, to get the questions back on course.

Follow up

When the question period is over (and especially if things have gone well), you have the chance to follow up. You may now have new supporters in the room, as well as previously-lukewarm supporters who have just become energized. Take advantage of this golden opportunity. Seize the moment. This is an excellent time to build on the momentum you have generated.

How can you do this? You might have:

  • A literature table in the back of the room (bring a friend to help you staff it)
  • A sign-up list for further information, or to get on a mailing list
  • An announcement of your next meeting
  • A reminder to take local action (e.g., phone calling, voting, talking to friends)

And you can stay after the presentation to speak directly with others who would like to learn more or act.

The key point is to look for ways to harness the energy that's there. Do it now. This is because human energy often fades fast. One week later, it will be much harder to spur the same group on to action -- assuming you remembered who they were in the first place!

Online Resources

All about features a helpful and detailed post entitled Master Your Presentation in 25 Steps.

A Wordpress blog called Tweak Your Slides has helpful advice in a post entitled Participation: Action Speaks Louder Than Your Words.

Pivotal Public Speaking offers great advice with “Is your audience switching off when you present data?” This article is published in three sections: Part OnePart Two, and Part Three.

The blog Kate’s Voice contains an article about the human voice as a critical tool in public speaking, entitled The Power of Intention: The secrets your voice reveals.

The Harvard Business Review shares thoughts on nonlinear and real-time presentations in Presentation Tools That Go Beyond “Next Slide Please.”

Better’s article, What’s the Problem with “Creating a PowerPoint”?, puts the popular software tool in perspective as an enhancement of your presentation, not the presentation itself.

Print Resources

Altman, D., Galcazar, F., Fawcett, S.. Seekins, T., & Young, J. (1994). Public health advocacy: Creating community change to improve health. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University. Standford Center for Research in Disease Prevention.

Fawcett, S., Paine, A., Francisco, V., Schultz, J., Richter, K., Lewis, R., Williams, E., Harris, K., Berkley, J., Fisher, J., & Lopez, C. (1994). Work Group evaluation handbook: Evaluating and supporting community initiatives for health and development. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas, Work Group on Health Promotion and Community Development.

Fawcett, S., Paine, A., Francisco, V., Schultz, J., Richter, K., Lewis, R., Williams, E., Harris, K., Berkley, J., Fisher, J., & Lopez, C.(1993). Concerns report handbook: Planning for community health. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas, Work Group on Health Promotion and Community Development.

Goodman, Andy. (2006). Why Bad Presentations Happen to Good Causes. Cause Communications.

Toastmasters International (1985). Be prepared to speak: The step-by-step video guide to public speaking. (Video). San Francisco, CA: Kantola-Skeie Productions (1613 Lyon Street, San Francisco, CA 94115).

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Planned approach to community health: Guide for the local coordinator. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Wagner, L. (1990). Presenting your health promotion program. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University. Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention.