A presentation is more than just an opportunity to explain a position or idea; it’s a means to demonstrate the hard work and research you’ve invested into it. And when it comes to preparing for a presentation—any presentation—you need to remember that the way you deliver your presentation is just as important (perhaps even more so) than the actual content.
Yes, that’s right. What you say isn’t necessarily as important as how you say it.
Think back to the last really good presentation you heard. I mean, the one that had you thinking about it for days afterwards. What made it so compelling? Why did it motivate or inspire you?
I’ll tell you why: Because the speaker engaged you. That was no accident! He or she didn’t walk up to the podium and wing it.
There’s a ton of preparation that goes on behind the scenes of an amazing presentation. We know because it’s our business to teach you the fundamentals of public speaking. What you may not realize is the preparation stage goes further than just jotting down some notes and practicing in front of a mirror. A stellar presentation takes a lot of time, a lot of energy, and… oh yes… a lot of practice. Here are seven key things you need to do before any presentation:
- Do Your Research—Regardless of whether or not you are an expert in your field, there is always something new to learn. Do a thorough investigation before plotting your presentation to see if there are any new developments that could be relevant to your subject or to your audience. And make sure you really know your material. It will eliminate the dreaded “umms” and “uhhhs” that we’ve all come to hate. It’s a sure sign you’re not as knowledgeable or prepared as you should be.
- Know Your Audience—No two presentations should ever be the same. I don’t care if it’s the 12th time this month that you’ve talked about the same subject. You may not have to start from scratch every time, but at least put the effort into finding out who’s going to be in your audience and tailor your presentation in a way that will appeal to them. The same jokes you told a business crowd at a breakfast meeting are probably going to fall flat with your daughter and her fellow third-graders on Career Day.
- Craft Your Notes—Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you can’t do your presentation without it being written down, you probably can’t do it at all. Don’t write a speech. Ever. Instead, craft notes to jog your memory on your speaking points. Glance at them periodically to keep you on track. Take those notes and practice with them every day until you don’t need them anymore. (But take them with you anyway… people tend to get forgetful in front of a crowd.)
- Practice Your Delivery—Your notes will help you prepare what you are going to say, but I’ve already told you what you say doesn’t keep a crowd engaged. So grab a video camera, your cell phone… anything with a video recording option and get in front of it. Record yourself delivering your presentation and give yourself an honest critique: Do you use effective body language? Do you walk around and interact with the crowd? How is your posture? If you can’t give yourself an honest critique, enlist a friend or family member to take a look and point out areas for improvement. Then practice, practice, practice.
- Dress For Success—As I mentioned before, every bit of a great presentation is intentional, including the speaker’s choice of clothing. Take special attention the next time you see someone speaking (usually a politician) who’s trying to appeal to blue-collar workers. Do you know what they’ll be wearing? A blue-collared shirt with their sleeves rolled up. Your attire should match the audience. Wearing a tuxedo to deliver a speech at a ground-breaking ceremony for a new chemical plant just doesn’t make sense.
- Get a Good Night’s Sleep—Make sure you look alert and refreshed by getting plenty of rest the night before a presentation. A drowsy mind is a forgetful mind. And the bags under your eyes won’t do you any good, either.
- Prepare Your Space—Arrive with enough time ahead of your presentation to properly prepare the space you’ll be using. Make sure your slides are in order and that any equipment you’ll be using is functioning properly to avoid embarrassing hiccups and delays during your presentation. Place your speaking notes in a logical spot and get yourself a glass of water. Spend a few quiet minutes mentally preparing.
Be the speaker that has inspired you. Think back to the speeches you’ve heard or the people who’ve appealed to you and strive to make that same connection with your audience. Preparation is key. There’s no such thing as an off-the-cuff winning presentation, so invest some time into yourself and your audience. And of course, we’re always here to help when you need to spend a little extra time brushing up on your skills.