If there is one thing I try to be, it is prepared. Some would say I’m obsessed with it. To use an old overused adage, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. In my facilitation and speaking, I am presenting on a very regular basis, and over the last few years I’ve learned a few tricks for being ready for a presentation – I even have a on-the-go bag with everything I need in it.
Right, so let’s start with the easiest thing to do, that no one outside of the speaking circuit seems to do. Rehearse. I can’t stress this point enough – many of the most amazing talks you’ve seen have been meticulously rehearsed and prepared, down to where the hands are positioned at particular paragraphs. I’m not saying you need to go to this extent for your weekly sales presentation, but a little rehearsal goes a long way. If you have rehearsed, and you know what parts of your talk go where, you’ll be able to avoid going blank when someone in your audience throws you off. It’s like a secret weapon! By the same token, you don’t want to come across as completely scripted and sounding like a robot, so having a little fun with your talk will go a long way. The method I use is a combination of scripting and icons, detailed below.
- I script the entire speech, end to end, and read through it while timing myself (more on that in a bit)
- I pull out 1-3 minute chunks of the talk into subjects/topics
- I draw an icon for each of these chunks on a whiteboard
- I memorise the icons and their flow
What this does for me is a few things. Scripting the whole talk gives me a full, comfortable, readable speech that I can time without having other stresses. I can also make cliffnotes about things like my hands, pitch, tone, and movement. Pulling the talk out into icons is a bit of a memory exercise, drawing out the little images makes me remember that particular subject and it’s order in relation to others. This keeps the flow of my talk going in my head. Lastly, memorising only the icons means I won’t sound scripted, but I’ll know EXACTLY which topic I need to speak on, and I can fairly easily judge what 1-3 minutes of talking feels like. Couple it all together, and I’ve memorised my talk and delivered it in the time I planned to.
Which brings me to my next point.
Often, when you speak, you’ll be given an allotted time, be it in the boardroom or on the stage. Do your audience (and perhaps subsequent speakers) a favour and stick to your time. As Michael Port states in his book Steal the Show; “There are no prizes for endurance in performance. Let them [audience] leave a few minutes ahead of schedule; they’ll thank you for it”.
When you’re at a conference, or presenting in a boardroom, you have a responsibility to both the audience, and your own professionalism to keep to your time. In many settings if you go over time, you will either be cut off before you can make your point or forced to rush through it at a bored audience’s expense.
Having said that, you may be going over time and have the audience eating out of your hand, but in this case do consider the run of events. If you are over time, you may be shortening the time of the speaker after you, which really does nothing for your reputation. You could also be cutting into lunch, which is a big no-no…
We’ve heard the term death by PowerPoint, and many folks say don’t use slides. I disagree with this. We are visual creatures, with the greatest “sensory bandwidth” being that of our eyes. I prefer to think that you get crappy presentations which belong in the bin, and presentations that someone has spent time on that are visually delighting. Have the latter.
There are some rules for slides though, my three key ones are below:
- Don’t use your slides as a prompter – if the power fails, you’ve lost your place. If you’ve memorised your flow, this won’t be a problem.
- Don’t use standard templates – they look boring, and anyone who has used PowerPoint will spot them a mile away. Disengaged audience in 3…2…1…
- Your audience can read, but they’re there to HEAR you. Don’t have slides with mountains of text on them. Have a simple, enticing slide, and talk through it with your points.
Last but not least, is equipment, which is two-fold. One is having everything you need, and two is making sure your laptop is good to go. On having what you need, have a standard checklist that you run through the night before every presentation, and pack your gear. Here’s mine as an example (along with why I pack certain items):
- Spare set of batteries for clicker/pointer
- HDMI to VGA adapter (for those venues that still use VGA)
- Whiteboard markers (this way I know the quality, and I know they’re visible)
- Laptop & Charger
- Mobile phone battery bank and charger cable (you never know when you’ll have to use your own hotspot instead of the venue’s internet)
- Flashdisk with everything for my presentation on it (if my laptop dies and I have to use someone else’s machine)
- Any props I may need
Finally, when it comes to your laptop, make sure you’ve run and installed all your updates (particularly for Windows) before you’re due to speak. Patches are released by Microsoft on the second Tuesday of the month, and if you have updates waiting you really don’t want your laptop rebooting on its own during your presentation or spending 45 minutes applying an update when you’re due to be on stage. Get this done beforehand! I’d always done this, but never thought of how important it was until a fellow speaking colleague (Ian Hatton) raised it in one of his talks. Go to your settings, go to Windows Updates, and install any updates waiting beforehand.
I hope you enjoyed my tips for being prepared for a presentation. Longer than my usual post, but valid nonetheless! Happy presenting!
PS – Steal the Show was basically my speaking go-to guide when starting out. I’d highly recommend it as required reading for anyone who has to present.