Human rights documentation practitioners are often required to go out and speak about our work to a range of audiences. These audiences include government officials, foreign donors and policy specialists, other human rights documentation groups locally or internationally, the media, university students, and the general public. Each of these audiences has different levels of prior knowledge, as well as different understandings of the context and the methodologies you use. They also have different reasons for engaging with you.

The length of time you have to present may also vary widely. With policy specialists, you may only have a few minutes to get your message across. When speaking to students or other human rights organizations, you may have an hour or more.

Preparing content which clearly and convincingly shares your message gives you the best chance of promoting your work effectively. Better yet, having a set of materials you can easily adapt for a range of audiences and time spans means you’ll always be ready to impress.

Below are seven things you can do to prepare for giving memorable presentations on human rights work:

1. Know your organisational mission and unique selling points (and be able to share them in one minute or less)

All organisations should design a short, precise mission statement that captures who you are and what you do. Review that statement regularly so it aligns with any changing priorities. Identify your key purpose(s), as well as what distinguishes your work from others. 

Then prepare a verbal summary of your mission and purpose(s) that you can share in a minute or less. This will be for those moments when a busy official or potential funder asks you what you do. If they want more detail, they’ll ask. That one minute pitch should highlight the key points of your work, but spark curiosity in the listener. Commonly used in business settings, this technique is also useful for human rights organisations. See here for more.

2. Create a well-designed slide presentation

If you have the opportunity to give a visual presentation, make a well designed slide presentation. This can be done in a range of free programs including Google Slides and Libre Office, which are compatible with Microsoft PowerPoint and Keynote. 

Don’t overcrowd slides with text, only use short bullet points where necessary. Good resolution visual representations of data and other images should be used to support what you are saying, or to show findings. Have a short version and a longer version ready for different settings, and be sure to update them regularly. For more information on designing good slide presentations, see here.

3. Make a script to stay on message

Prepare a script to accompany your visual presentations. This will make sure you stick to the important points and keep to time. If you have a tendency to read presentations, don’t write it out word for word. Just write bullet points to force you maintain eye contact with the audience. Think about the key concepts, terms or other information that might need more or less explanation, depending on the audience. Practice your script in advance so you know it well, and prepare to speak at a pace that people can follow comfortably.

4. Research your audience

Before you go out to engage with any audience, find out who they are and how much they already know about your work or the context you are focussed on. Don’t assume they know all about the history of the issue: be prepared to share a concise background of your work if necessary. 

Make sure you know what their interests are in your work. Are they potential donors? Could they help provide technical support? Are they politically friendly or unfriendly? Tailor your presentation depending on their interests and the information they will need from you.

5. Open with questions

Even though you will have researched your audience, it doesn’t hurt to open your presentation with a few general questions to confirm their prior knowledge or what they want to hear from you. Depending on the situation and how much time you have, you could ask things like:

  • What brought you here today?
  • What have you heard about <issue x>?
  • What have your experiences of <dealing with issue xyz> been?

6. Design an activity

Depending on your audience, think about an interactive activity you could do with the group. This is particularly suitable for workshops where you are speaking about research methods or aspects of your work, or when presenting to university students. Keep the activity short and to the point. Minimise the need for long explanations or supplementary materials. Depending on your work, some activities could include:

  • Interviewing: Have audience members recount a recent or historical event in their lives (preferably one that is not sensitive or distressing). Ask them questions as you would an interviewee for documentation purposes. Demonstrate the importance of being able to explain how you know certain “facts”, how difficult it can be to remember sequences of events accurately, and which details matter.
  • Mapping: Have audience members split into groups and put away all electronic devices. Ask each group to draw a map of a location familiar to them, including key landmarks. Have them mark a distance scale and a north-facing arrow on the maps. Compare the finished maps to a real map of the assigned location, to demonstrate the challenges of remembering location information accurately.
  • Advocacy: Split audience members into groups and assign them an advocacy tool to share the message of your work or a specific campaign message (eg. Facebook, press release, online advertisement, Twitter). Have them design a short advocacy strategy to maximise the use of that tool.

7. Bring relevant printed materials with you

Always have printed materials with you to put in people’s hands, including business cards if possible. Have your most recent reports or other publicity materials ready so that your presence stays with those you meet after the event.

Last Updated: May 15, 2019