Preparing a Presentation


When you are under pressure at work it can be difficult to allocate the appropriate amount of time to preparing a presentation that you have been asked to give. But as we all know “failing to plan is planning to fail” and this has never be more true when it comes to giving a presentation.

There are three main parts to preparing a presentation:

  • Deciding what to say.
  • Deciding how to say it.
  • Preparing yourself to say it.

What to say

Let’s start with “Deciding what to say”, this is really all about your audience and what you would like them to do. What do you want your presentation to achieve? What is your objective? How will you know if you have achieved your objective? You need to be really clear on what your aim is, so take some time at the start to work out why you are giving the presentation and what you want it to achieve. If you can write this down in one or two sentences you will have a good foundation for your presentation.

Having decided your objective, then start thinking about your audience. Who are they? Why are they coming to listen to you? What do they know about the topic already? What is it that they want or need to hear? The more you can find out about your audience the more accurately you can pitch your presentation to meet their needs and desires. When addressing a mixed audience try to define two or three different segments of your audience and create two or three alternative scenarios.

Having established why and who, it is then time to start thinking and researching what it is your going to say. Having a structure to fit the points you want to make in to is very helpful. One structure I have used successfully many times is to start by outlining the problems with the current way of doing something and the describing a vision of success, a picture of how it could be if things were different. Then go one to describe how this vision could be attained, summarizing all the benefits of the approach, inviting the audience to join you in achieving this vision which you can then restate at the end of the presentation. Don’t be tempted to add in everything that you can think of, maintain a structure. Three key points backed up by evidence or anecdotes is usually sufficient for most presentations.

It is at this point that many people make the mistake of opening PowerPoint and creating lists of slides titles and bullet points. While bullet points may be a useful way to document the points you wish to make in a speech, they do not make good visual aids.

How to Say it

Having pulled all you material together and being familiar with the main point you wish to get across, you can now turn to planning how you are going to convey this information. Are you going to stand and talk? Will you have any props to help get the message across? Will you use visual aids and if so what will they be? Are you going to tell a story? How will you involve your audience? Will you ask them questions?

Rehearse your presentation by saying it out loud. Sitting at your desk clicking though a set of slides is no way to rehearse a presentation. You need to say it out loud to become familiar with your material and to become accustomed to saying the words. By rehearsing a presentation out loud you can develop the phraseology which will work best in the spoken form, rather than the more formal style of language we use when we are writing. A single rehearsal will improve your speech by up to 80%.

You don’t need to have anyone listening to you especially the first time through, although it can help to tape record or video record your presentation rehearsal so that you get a clear view of what you actually sound and look like. I often turn off the radio and rehearse a presentation in the car on the way to the location. It is a great way to rehearse and the presentation and make sure you know what you are going to say, plus it is fresh in your mind when you arrive.

Preparing to say it

Finally, you need to put yourself in the right frame of mind for giving a presentation. If you do not feel confident you need to address it. Tell yourself that being nervous is OK, in fact, if it is an important presentation it is perfectly normal to feel nervous, you just want to recognise that you are nervous and put it to one side, while you get on with the job in hand.

Use confident boosting techniques like telling your self that you are “Poised, prepared, persuasive, positive and powerful “ and that you feel, “composed, confident, convincing, commanding and compelling”.

To counteract a dry mouth, suck a mint beforehand. Use breathing techniques to ensure there is sufficient oxygen in your bloodstream or take some gentle exercise beforehand. Wear clothes that make you feel good. Remember, the facts will only take your audience so far, it is your passion for the subject and your emotion that will lift your presentation to new heights.

Make sure you arrive at the venue, nice and early, so that you have time to get set up and familiarise your self with the surroundings, before your audience arrive. Work out where you are going to put any notes, or props you intend using and think through how any equipment you are going to use will work. Check any pens have ink in them, check your laptop to ensure the screen save, or instant messaging won’t pop up in the middle of your presentation and make sure your mobile is on silent.

Don’t rely on an off the cuff presentation, just because you know about the topic doesn’t mean you can effortlessly give a quality presentation, it takes time, it takes thought and it takes practise.

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