Have you ever given a presentation and when it was over you said to yourself: "I should have been better prepared."? Have you vowed in that moment of stress, frustration and with the sense of lost opportunity that "I'll be better prepared next time."? Then, as the next presentation came up like a speeding-out-of-control freight train, did you find yourself in the same dilemma? Maybe you have had these experiences and thoughts, yet you didn't really know a great way to get that preparation.
Never fear. That is the goal of this article - to give you specific actionable ways that you can prepare for the delivery of your best presentation ever. What follows are six suggestions for doing that. But before we get to those six approaches, let's start with a major key to your presentation, and how it relates to your preparation.
What do I want from my audience?
For any presentation, you should be able to describe in brief the most desired response from your audience - what do you want people to do, think or decide? With this clear goal in mind, all of your preparation will be placed into proper perspective.
As you prepare for the details and stories and examples you are going to use, remember that in the end, your presentation is all about this most desired response. If you remind yourself of this, not only will you build a better presentation, but it will guide your preparation to be about the audience, and not yourself.
With that context, let's look at the six strategies.
- Get a real audience
The best way to practice is in real time. Gather your kids, your spouse, your neighbours, your co-workers or your dog, and walk through the entire presentation. Don't talk about what you are going to say or how you want to say it; do it. Certainly if your audience consists of adults, you may want feedback from them on what they saw (your dog might not be much help in this case).
- Practice in the real space
Professional presenters want to see the space they will be presenting in before they go live. They want a sense of the room, the equipment and more. Why wouldn't you want to do the same? If the presentation is going to be given in your office, the space itself might be familiar, however the exercise of delivering it in real time in that space is useful - with or without an actual audience.
- Put it on tape
With the technology that exists today, it is easy to record your practice - either on audio or video. This recording can be done in conjunction with either of the first two approaches, or in the case of audio, as you sit at your computer. The power of the recording is your ability to listen back to it to review and critique how you did. The value of the playback will be hard to estimate until you experience it.
- Rehearse in your head
A less "real" approach is to go through the presentation in your mind, from start to finish, or by considering the flow and wording of a particular portion. The value of this approach is that you can do it anytime (in your car, as you exercise, while you sit at your desk, in the shower, etc.) and without any props or other people.
- Go through your visuals
Before you gave a presentation in high school or college you likely reviewed your note cards as a part of your preparation. That strategy, translated to today, likely means going through your PowerPoint slides as a form of preparation. This will be more effective if you can actually advance the slides on your computer, but it can also work with a printed copy of the slides. In either case the goal here is to work on flow, but also to know your slides so well that the transitions during your actual presentation are seamless.
- Super Preparation
Have you ever noticed a presenter who stumbled at the start of their presentation and never fully recovered? Would you like to avoid this and begin with confidence that you are ready to go? One strategy for building that confidence and early momentum is to super prepare the start of your presentation. One of the most powerful things you can do is have your opening 1-3 minutes so polished and so ready that you know that portion will go well. By having the critical opening so well prepared you build your confidence and truly get off to a great start.
Any of these strategies will help you be and feel more prepared for your next presentation. They will take time, but it will be time well-invested, because you will avoid the sinking feeling at the end of your presentation that you didn't reach your goal, or sent the wrong message.