Acing a technical talk: Writing a Session Profile for Successful Presentations

applause-431234_640What makes a presentation successful?

In the last post, we discussed the purpose of a presentation and I suggested that it involves inspiring people in the audience to do something because of the presentation. When this is achieved, we can say it was a successful presentation.

Before they actually do that, they have to learn how to do that. Before that, they need to be convinced to learn it. In earlier posts, we discussed the five stages of the learning process:

  1. Selection
  2. Linking
  3. Organisation
  4. Assimilation
  5. Reinforcement

That’s why as speakers, we follow these steps to make sure that our presentations are effective and successful:

  1. Make sure that the audience is convinced that the information is worth learning. (Selection)
  2. Make sure that the audience is able to process and digest the information presented. (Linking, Organisation)
  3. Present the information and make sure that the audience is able to retain the information. (Assimilation)
  4. Make sure that the audience is able to practice and use the information. (Reinforcement)

Each step is more important than the next one

If an audience member is not convinced enough to listen to you, they’ll never be ready to process and digest the information you present. I have said before that if you are successful in convincing them, your talk can become important enough.

This means that if you are not able to present information that is linked to their existing knowledge or structure it properly, many of them will still take the effort to ask questions, read more and follow up to clarify these links and get a structure of their own.

Every step is not necessary

It’s not that if you don’t convince people, no one is going to listen to you. There will be a section of the audience that is already convinced, for various reasons. In a multi-track event, they wouldn’t have turned up for your session, if they didn’t feel it was important.

At times, you don’t need to spend as much time on some parts of the learning or skip them altogether. It all depends on the topic, your judgement and experience.

Session profile or overview

As discussed above, the session structure will vary depending on multiple factors. Rather than straightaway preparing my session in the order of how it’ll be presented (Introduction, Body and then Conclusion), I usually prepare an overview or a profile of the session. It helps me get the big picture and the core ideas of my presentation. This way I can plan my actual session easily and even modify my presentation on the go, based on the audience’s reaction.

  1. What is the aim or purpose of my presentation? Or, what do I want the audience to do because of my presentation?
  2. What is my presentation about? Or, what is the central idea or theme of my presentation?
  3. What are the goals or objectives that’ll need to be achieved to satisfy the aim?
  4. What do I want my audience to do after my presentation? (Call to action)
  5. What will be the title of my presentation?

We’ve discussed the aim or purpose of a presentation in the last post. We’ve discussed objectives briefly earlier.

Central Idea

The central idea describe what the presentation is about, in a single sentence. Ideally, if someone asks an audience member what your presentation was about, this is what they should paraphrase.

It is slightly different from but related to the aim of the presentation. For example, if your aim is:

I want audience members to start using Theme Frameworks for their projects.

then, the central idea could be:

Theme Frameworks make theme development easy (because they come with built-in functionality, excellent code quality and excellent support).

While the aim states what you want your audience to do, the central idea says why they should do it.


We’ve had a brief discussion on setting objectives earlier. You may recall that objectives are basically well defined statements that describe

  • what the participant will be able to do at the end of your session,
  • under what conditions, and
  • what criteria or standards would be used to evaluate this.

Aim vs Objectives

Although the meaning in the general sense is very similar, these are two distinct words in formal settings. While the aim defines what is going to be done, the objectives tell us the how of it. In fact, to be specific, objectives are the exact things that need to be done so that we know that the aim is achieved.

Call to action

This is what you’d explicitly ask the audience to do at the end of the presentation, either right away or after going back. For the theme framework example above, the call to action could be

I want you to select any theme framework and create a child theme that has a different colour scheme from the parent theme.


Finally, the title is the PR person of your presentation. It is the first thing people will know and it is the only thing they’d need to remember before the presentation. Here’s an excellent resource that saves me from going into details: How to Write Good Speech Titles.

What’s Next

In the next post, we’ll create the actual session plan (from Introduction to Conclusion) based on the session profile.

Worksheets and an exercise

Here’s a worksheet that you can use to plan and structure your session. As an exercise, you could work out the session profile and objectives for a presentation on Theme Frameworks.

View Fullscreen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *