A strong seminar presentation can help strengthen your client relationships and build credibility with prospects.

Having the ability to connect with an audience and properly communicate your message will set you apart from your competition, says George Torok, owner of speechcoachforexecutives.com in Burlington, Ont.

Here are some tips on how to structure your next presentation:

> Know your objective
Think about what you want to accomplish with the presentation.

Define your objective before you write anything or do any rehearsing, says Lisa Braithwaite, a public-speaking coach in Santa Barbara, Calif. That means figuring out your presentation’s purpose, identifying your audience and the effect you want your presentation to have on that audience.

> Research your audience
Instead of presenting the same canned speech to every group, tweak it to fit each particular your audience, says Braithwaite.

If the seminar is for an association, contact the organizer to find out the demographics and experience level of the expected audience, she says.

If you have a set guest list, send out a short questionnaire to find out the audience members’ expectations. If it’s a public event, ask a few questions beforehand — either while guests are milling about before you start, or when you first take the podium — to get a sense of who is in the crowd.

In addition to giving you a quick survey, Braithwaite says, opening with questions makes audience members participate and feel engaged. Use questions such as: “Who here is retired?” or “Who has young children?”

> Start out strong
Grab the audience’s attention with a strong opening.

Asking questions can be effective; so can citing statistics, as long as the numbers are surprising.

Tell a success story, Torok recommends. Opening with an anecdote about a client gives you credibility and makes the audience focus on you.

> Give the audience answers
Format your presentation to answer common questions, Torok says.

Everybody in the audience is looking to have four questions answered: Why is the information important to me? What are the opportunities? How can we move forward? What if?

Use the questions to structure your presentation. People who want to know why it’s important are the least patient, Torok says, so answer their question first. Next, you’ll want to answer the “what” and “how” questions. End with an explanation of different scenarios to satisfy those who want to know “What if?”

> Be flexible
Adjust your presentation to fit the audience, if necessary.

For example, if your audience seems particularly disengaged, Torok says, don’t be afraid to stop and ask if they’d like to take a break or discuss a topic mentioned earlier in presentation.

The purpose of the presentation is not to recite your script perfectly, he says. It is to connect with your audience.

> End with your voice — not questions
A question-and-answer session makes for a weak ending. Control the important finale by ending with a well constructed wrap-up — whether it’s a call to action or a summary of your key message.

When you end with a Q&A, all the energy leaves the room, says Braithwaite. People leave or ask random, off-topic questions that can distract from your message.

Here’s how to avoid a fizzling Q&A ending: Toward the end of your talk, tell the audience you’ll take a few minutes to answer questions. After the Q&A, do your memorable closing statement, Braithwaite says. The audience then leaves with your carefully chosen final words in their minds.