Preparing for presentations isn’t easy. Even team meetings with your colleagues can be stressful and challenging. Few of us are true extroverts, and even fewer of us are comfortable with public speaking.
So how do you prepare for a big presentation?
There’s no straightforward answer. And there’s lots of great advice on public speaking out there. Some people recommend memorizing a script and practicing it intensely for as long as you possibly can. Other people suggest having key talking points and riffing on those. I’m not sure anyone would suggest going totally unprepared, because that would be tantamount to presentation-suicide … but from heavy-duty preparation to minimal preparation, you’ll get it all, and everything in-between.
Here’s my suggestion: Do what you need to in order to feel confident and comfortable giving the presentation.
If you’re not sure what to do in order to feel confident and comfortable, then I’d lean towards being more prepared than not.
Here are some tips for things you can do:
- Start with your key talking points. There’s no point writing a full script or presentation until you know what points you want to hammer home. Then, you can stick with a standard format: (a) tell them what you’re going to show them; (b) show them; and, (c) tell them what you just showed them.
- Write a script. I think this is a good idea. It lets you write everything out and start massaging the words the way you want. It also gives you a benchmark against which you can practice and refine things.
- Don’t get hung up on specific words. It’s unlikely that missing or changing any one word will totally ruin your presentation, so don’t worry about perfection. The only person that knows you “screwed up” is you…
- Find your speaking style. Over time with enough practice you can learn to speak and present in any style, but if you’re in crunch mode and don’t have enough time, just try and find your own speaking style. Find your groove. Some people are ultra-enthusiastic. Some are much calmer.
- Practice in front of people. I haven’t done this yet, but I’ll be doing it soon. If you haven’t given a lot of presentations this will feel awkward but it’s better to get over those feelings now rather than when you’re on stage. So practice in front of others. But be careful about taking their advice, especially if the presentation is fast approaching. The risk is that you try to incorporate changes you’re not really comfortable with, whether it’s in the actual script or in your presentation style, and you end up causing more damage than good. Given the opportunity you should seek expert help with your presentation, but be careful about how you take any advice, especially late in the game.
- Practice with distractions. It’s great to sit in a bubble with no distractions whatsoever and practice. You need the quiet time to memorize things and get a feel for what you’re doing. But I’m also practicing while distracted – be it by other sounds or visually (people walking by my office door, for example) because it makes me feel more confident that I can pull it off.
- Practice piece by piece. I’ve found it quite helpful to practice each section of my presentation in pieces. I’ll focus on one part, memorize the core elements, run through it till I’m comfortable and then move to the next piece. Then it’s just a matter of stringing the pieces together, which is easier.
- Practice hand gestures. If you’re giving a “naked” presentation (with nothing in front of you like a table, etc.) then you need to be aware of what you’re doing with your hands. And your feet. So think about your hand gestures and how they relate to what you’re saying. If you plan to move around, pace in sync with your words. I’ve been practicing this for a few days with great success. The hand gestures and where I’m walking are triggers cuing what I should be saying.
- Find your comfort zone. All the advice in the world won’t help if you can’t get comfortable with your preparation, practice techniques and ultimately, the presentation itself. Do whatever makes you feel comfortable. The more comfortable you feel, the more confident you feel, and the better things will go.