Tomorrow I’m doing a public seminar on presentation skills for business leaders with two gentlemen that I have a lot of respect for. Yesterday, we met to go through the program and I remember thinking “Gosh, I wish we had another week to get ready.”
Please don’t misunderstand. We’re ready for the presentation tomorrow. I’m convinced that the attendees will receive great content that will help them improve their presentations. But I rarely ever feel prepared enough for any presentation. I guess that’s my form of speech anxiety.
Clients and colleagues ask me what I do to prepare. Here are some of the things I believe help.
Make Yourself Practice
This morning, before I writing this post, I practiced a portion of tomorrow’s workshop. I stood up next to my desk. I faced my mock audience – an empty couch on the other side of the room – and I started telling my opening story. A couple sentences in, I fumbled around for words. I thought through what I was going to say then prodded myself, “OK, Kelly, now say is out loud.” Ugh! It’s painful. But I owe it to the people who are attending the class to fumble around in the privacy of my home office rather than in front of them tomorrow. Standing up, saying the words aloud gets the muscle memory working for me. I even practice eye contact by looking at specific objects around the room as if they were people seated in chairs. It’s all part of the process and it makes for a better presentation.
Know Your Subject Well
Tomorrow’s presentation is on presentation skills. I know this subject well and in particular the parts of the presentation that are mine to cover. Given our backgrounds, we each gravitated to the areas of presentation skills where we have the most passion. But my passion for presentations can’t just rest on the topics I already know and blog about. I keep looking to push myself by reading others writings on presentations and watching other presenters.
This past weekend, I attended the monthly meeting of the Georgia Chapter of the National Speakers Association. Our guest speaker was Mark Sharonbrock. OMG is he great! Watching such great presenters teaches me and enriches my knowledge.
I also recently found a free app for the iPad and iPhone called ProSpeak by Do It Marketing. They’ve got links to several great speaker blogs – one central place for reading about speaking related topics.
That’s why I went to TEDxAtlanta last week even though I had other things to do. I knew I’d see at least a couple of great presenters – and lucky for me, there was more than 2! It’s important to always be focused on knowing our subject well.
Be Prepared for Questions
Prepping for questions is a hard one for me. My goal is to be clear enough in my presentations that people don’t have questions. But like everyone else, I have blind spots where I’m not as clear as an audience needs me to be. Luckily though, knowing my subject well helps when it comes to answering the questions the audience has.
Inevitable there are questions that come up that are outside the scope of a particular presentation. I respect an audience that wants to bring up other related topics. If they have a burning question that I can help them with, then it’s good for us all!
I know some people have advised me to have some “canned questions” at the ready. Their logic goes like this…”If you ask for questions and no one asks any questions, then make the statement, ‘Audiences often ask me XYZ’ then answer the XYZ question.” To me the problem with that approach is that if audiences frequently ask me that question, then I’d modify my presentation to address that question! Plus it sounds a little forced and disingenuous. I prefer to get questions throughout the presentation and if there aren’t any questions right way when I pause, then I stay quiet a little longer and wait. Usually there is a question and the silence gives the audience member time to formulate their question before asking.
When I have an important presentation coming up, I prefer to present the material first in front of a “friendly” audience to see what questions and feedback I get before going in front of the high stakes audience. For me, the friendly audience may come in the form of a speech to my Toastmasters club or by giving the presentation to a colleague I trust. Getting practice in answering the questions with my friendly audience, gives me more confidence that I’ll be able to handle the tough questions when they come from that critical audience.
Focus on Connection, not Perfection
My new mantra is “With your presentations, it’s not about perfection. It’s about connection,” because I believe it’s true and I need to be reminded of it as well.
I want to be prepared so that I deliver a great program. But more importantly I want to make a connection with the audience. I want to connect the audience to something valuable that will help them. I want to be present and connect with the audience as people. I want to connect to develop a deeper relationship with the individuals that make up the audience.
So while I may always wish I had another week to prepare, I will give it my all on the day of a presentation so that my clients get what they need.
How Do You Prepare?
What do you do to force yourself to practice? Or do you? How do you keep up with your area of expertise? How do you prepare for questions? How do you make a connection? Tell me more in the comments below!