When reviewing someone else’s presentation, use these lists to help.

Last night I coached a young woman who was being interviewed later this week for a $250,000 full ride scholarship to the college of her choice. She was tasked to give a 15 minute presentation and answer questions to an unknown panel. The challenge she faced is that the organizers from the admissions office gave her no guidance on what questions they wanted answered.

So she prepped a 12 minute demonstration of her robotic arm that won her all sorts of science olympiad awards and consequentially, admission into this prestigious engineering school (just the quarter-million-gulp-dollar-scholarship was on the line).  The outcome of the review was that we worked hard to make her opening and closing about the college (not about her), to weave in her key message points about being creative and a problem solver, and found a few ways to interject an equally as impressive career in choir with a personal passion she had in rescuing cats. We walked away with a bit more humanism while not losing the intense technical jargon she believed they wanted to hear about her complicated robotic arm (all of which was way over my head, but I was not the intended audience, so I nodded and smiled during those minutes).

But as I listened to her talk, it brought me back to a training I did in content framing a few weeks ago for a large insurance company. My clients who sponsored the training are tasked daily with reviewing other people’s presentations and making giving them important feedback toward improvement.

But reviewing and giving feedback are hard to break down sometimes when you are busy. So I present here my definitive content review question guide – the critical questions you need to make sure are answered as you are reviewing any presentation.

As Atul Gwande taught us in the Checklist Manifesto, there are some checklists meant to be used before a task, and others, after. To that end, I have presented a “before” and “after” list for your use.

A jump start “before” list – top 5 questions to get a new presentation started:

Who is the audience you are presenting to?

What is the question on their mind?

What did they know about the topic beforehand?  / What context do they need?

What is your bottom line answer?

What do you want them to do with the information after the presentation?  (the goal!)

A review “after” list – what to look for after you’ve seen a presentation

Did I follow you? Did you tell me where you were headed in the first 2 minutes? Did you wander?

Do I know you / your story and why you have license to deliver the message (appropriate for new hires)?

Can I repeat your key challenge (problem) and answer to the challenge (solution)?

Did I know what you want me to do with the information?

Did each slide (if they were used) have a concluding idea, clearly stated in the header?

Did you give me anything to feel about the topic? Should I be scared? Excited? Moved to immediate action?

And lastly, do I see the intended audience inside the message? In other words, did you make the audience the central character of your story? (as opposed to the presenter being the central character).


As I think about the student pitching for the scholarship, the most important improvement we made was in having her ask for the scholarship, “Choose me for this scholarship and I will bring my passion and creativity to four years of academic excellence on your campus.”  In the “before” version, she never stated her goal. In the “after” there was no doubt – she was not just there to share her robotic arm. She was there to be chosen and most simply, to win.