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I’m not fond of public speaking. Never have been. I’ve improved over the years (out of necessity) but still do not enjoy giving presentations.
Surprisingly (to me) I’ve been told I present and speak well, and so I’ve identified it as an area I want to improve, and hopefully learn to enjoy.
I’ve set myself a goal of giving 6 major presentations this year. It’s the last day of February and so far I’ve given 2, which is a good start.
The first one went really well. Yesterday I gave the second one, and it wasn’t as great. I thought I was prepared but left feeling deflated. In the spirit of kaizen – or continuous improvement – I recognised it as an opportunity to reflect on the experience and learn from it.
This list is not exhaustive, but here are my top tips to “be prepared” for presentations:
Dress for success
Roxette was recently in town and I’ve had this song stuck in my head for periods of time ever since.
Last week I attended a networking event that included a presentation by a personal image coach, and I found myself getting annoyed with the whole “buy the best you can afford, dress for the part, people judge you in the first 3 seconds” spiel.
This type of attitude (along with our media and advertising industry) perpetuates the emphasis on how we look rather than what we know and are capable of.
Despite this, I did think about how I dressed for the presentation (Yes! I’m perpetuating my own bugbear!) I like to think it was from a practical perspective, however, helping me to be prepared:
- Walk the walk
Having been to the presentation venue a few times previously, I knew the boardroom was upstairs. I also knew that I would be seated for part of the meeting, before standing up for my presentation, then being seated again for the close of the meeting.
While I love my new killer heels, I didn’t want to risk the chance of stumbling in them at all, so I wore comfortable (but still gorgeous) shoes.
- Comfort first
As mentioned, I knew I would need to sit, stand, then sit, and so chose a comfortable dress that I knew I wouldn’t need to *shimmy* the skirt down after standing up, or have to think about at all.
I prepared my outfit beforehand so that I wouldn’t have to think about it at all during the presentation. Instead, I could concentrate on what was more important: what I know and what I am capable of.
Know your sh*t
I am stealing this one from a presentation I attended last year on presentation and public speaking skills, and that is because it is so true.
While I do get nervous standing in front of, and presenting to any size audience, I think what makes me appear better than I feel, is that I know what I’m talking about.
I’ve never presented on a topic I’m unfamiliar with, and if I have had to, then I’ve learned as much as possible about it and practised beforehand so that I do know it.
That doesn’t mean I’ll be able to answer any question that’s thrown at me, but it gives me a better understanding of what may come up, and the ability to confidently say: “I do not know, but I can find out for you and let you know soon.”
Know your audience
Just like sourcing the attendee list before a networking event, it’s good to know who you will be presenting to. If it’s a small group, you can find out specifically; if it’s a larger group, get a general feel for the demographics and psychographics of the audience.
This will help you not only prepare your content, but plan how to best deliver it, and even answer any likely questions before they arise.
Know your words
When I’m nervous, I can get into this cycle of repeating the same word throughout my presentation. I’ve been told it’s not as obvious as I think it is, but once I become aware of it, it can throw my confidence.
There are a few ways to prevent this:
- Keep slides simple
Having too many words and full sentences on screen can encourage you to read the presentation, rather than use the copy as reminders (for either you or your audience). So keep any digital presentation copy simple.
- Write it out (by hand)
Writing your presentation content by hand assists in committing it to memory. It’s a type of context recall. It doesn’t need to be the entire presentation, word for word. Just the important points (and a variety of relevant words) that you want to remember.
- Use presentation notes
Whether you have a digital presentation or not, have some brief notes available with the various relevant keywords highlighted to help you along, and out of a rut (if required).
Expect the unexpected
An important part of being prepared is preparing for things you don’t know about. Yet.
Before the presentation, think about all the things that could happen, and how you will deal with them.
This can also help to reduce stress by running through and preparing for highly unlikely situations such as wild animals bursting into the room (it *could* happen).
I did not do this yesterday. I was caught out by the assumption that the people I was presenting to would know why I was there and what I would be talking about. They didn’t.
I had been warned to keep my presentation short and simple, but in doing that, I did not include what would have been some useful overview and qualifying information.
During my post-presentation pondering, I realised that had I over-prepared, and then found the information to not be required, I could have easily skipped over it.
This example also relates to knowing your audience. Had I asked more, and better questions beforehand, I would have known what to expect, rather than assumed.
As well as improving my presentation skills this year, I’m also trying to reduce my stress. Preparing for presentations generally makes me stressed, so I tried hard to not buy into the stress and keep calm.
However, I forgot that stress can be a good thing. Being stressed or nervous shows that you care about whatever it is that you’re doing. If you don’t care, you don’t have strong feelings – either good or bad.
In my attempt to not let my stress get the better of me, I became complacent and didn’t review and practice my presentation as much as I normally would. This meant I picked up a few errors and areas that didn’t flow well during the presentation. Not good.
Give yourself a break
As mentioned, I left yesterday’s presentation feeling deflated. To try and find the “silver lining” I spent some time following it reviewing the experience, and identifying my learnings, which I’ve outlined here.
Later that afternoon I got a call from my client who thanked me for delivering a “great presentation” and “explaining the topic so well”.
We are often our own worst critic, and I’m still glad I used the opportunity to identify where I can improve my presentation skills. But it seems I wasn’t as bad as I thought I was.
What are your top presentation tips?
Image by Girl Guides of Canada via Flickr.