1) GET FEEDBACK EARLY AND OFTEN.
I used to find it hard to share my speech/presentation progress. Why? In case the person I confided in didn't like it/disagreed/found it weak etc. This would not only leave me feeling discouraged, but it would also force me to backtrack...and sometimes start over! What a waste!
The turning point was realising that the painful part wasn't getting the constructive feedback, it was getting it after I had already put so much work into the speech/presentation.
The key was therefore to share that progress early and often, so I didn't find myself reversing out of a rabbit hole that I'd already invested so heavily in.
2) LEARN YOUR IDEAS BUT DON'T MEMORISE.
It's very tempting to memorise a speech/presentation 'script' but there are three key reasons why this isn't a good idea:
1) It's time-consuming
2) If you lose your place, it's extremely hard to recover
3) You will likely appear mechanical and inauthentic
Learning ideas rather than memorising word-for-word means you will appear genuine in your delivery and you will be able to respond to the mood and needs of the audience on the day. E.g. the speaker before you ran overtime, so the organiser has asked you to reduce your presentation by 20% (it happens folks!). If you've learnt ideas, cutting a couple of examples/supporting points becomes a much more manageable task.
Next time you're preparing for a presentation learn your structure, key ideas and supporting points. Then rehearse out loud (again and again) to get a sense of how the ideas fit together.
But, whatever you do, don't memorise.*
*A couple of exceptions would be a high stakes political speech or media interview. In these cases, it may be necessary to be intentional about every spoken word.
3) WHEN YOU REHEARSE, TIME YOURSELF.
As speakers, time discipline is incredibly important. If you want to get asked back and if you want your audience to like you, KEEP TO TIME. To ensure you do, time yourself in rehearsal.
A few guidelines:
(1) Find out if your allocated speaking time includes Q&A.
(2) Allow a buffer of time in case things don't go to plan. If you've been given 30 minutes, don't plan to speak for 30 minutes. Shoot for 22-25 minutes.
(3) Nerves will cause you to speak more quickly. When you're in an 'on stage state,' understand that your perception of time goes OUT THE WINDOW. This means that a speaking pace that seems too slow to you, will probably make for a comfortable listening pace for your audience. Work hard to slow down.
And remember...no one ever complains about a speech that was too short.
4) GET CLEAR ON YOUR SPEAKING PURPOSE.
Have you ever observed a speech, presentation, or meeting and thought, "What was the point of that?!" Clear communication starts with clear thinking, and clear thinking starts with understanding why you're speaking in the first place.
Understanding your speaking purpose is one of the most important AND most overlooked aspects of presentation preparation. Going forward, before putting pen to paper, ask yourself:
(1) What is the purpose of this presentation/speech/meeting?
(2) What do I want my audience to walk away with at the end of this presentation/speech/meeting?
5) IF IN DOUBT, FOLLOW THE STEPS: RESEARCH, WRITE, REHEARSE, RECITE, REFLECT
RESEARCH: Find relevant, reliable, and recent information and data to support your topic. Put everything on paper, and don't prematurely exclude ideas, as you may just come back to them later.
WRITE: Start fitting your ideas into a structure. Consider your beginning (first impression), middle (three points), and end (lasting impression).
REHEARSE: Practice aloud as if there were an audience in front of you. This will reveal how well you've grasped your ideas. Video yourself in rehearsal and look for any distracting movements or habits. Practice sections in isolation and out of order.
RECITE: It's time to deliver. Be present-focussed. Think about your audience and the words you're saying. Look confident, and if you don't feel confident, pretend you are (your audience won't know the difference).
REFLECT: Why/why wasn't your presentation a success? Articulate the learnings and refer back to them when preparing for presentations in future.
6) ENSURE YOU KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Take the time to learn about your audience. This will influence your content and approach and will give you a greater chance of delivering a message that is relevant and engaging. To help you with this, ask yourself a series of audience-centered questions:
• Who is my audience?
• Based on their demographics, is there anything I should take into consideration?
• What do they want to get out of this?
• Are they here by choice, or are they only listening to me because they have to?
• What assumptions might they have made about me?
• What is their level of understanding on the subject?
• What type of language should I be using to ensure they understand what I’m talking about? (Unless they’re from the same industry, avoid jargon).
• What are my audience’s existing beliefs on the subject?
• How receptive are they to hearing different opinions or perspectives?
• Does my topic have negative connotations?
• Is my audience tired because it’s the last session of the day?
• Do they have fixed ideas about the topic?
• What might get in the way of my desired outcome?
• How long will I be speaking for? (Allow a buffer of time. If things go wrong, it can be helpful to have a few minutes up your sleeve).
• Has the person speaking before me run overtime so I have less time to speak?
• What content should I prioritise?
• What additional content could I incorporate if time allows?
7) IF YOU KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE YOU CAN PREPARE FOR QUESTIONS YOU MIGHT BE ASKED.
We tend to think we can't prepare for the Q&A section of a presentation, but if you've taken the time to understand your audience, with a bit of preparation, I think you can preempt around 60-90% of questions.
So, take the time to brainstorm potential questions and think about how you will go about answering them.
8) PRACTICE MEANS REHEARSING OUT LOUD.
A musician doesn't prepare for a gig by going over the piece in his/her head. They practice out loud as if there was an audience in front of them. The same applies to being a speaker. 'Saving it for the day,' DOES NOT WORK.
Practice your ideas in isolation, out of order, and from beginning to end. Practice out loud and practice often. Good speakers are good because they practice.
9) DEVELOP A ROUTINE THAT WILL GET YOU INTO THE RIGHT HEADSPACE.
When it comes to 'getting in the zone,' everyone is different. Some people prefer high-energy environments that get them pumped up, while others opt for quiet spaces that allow them to focus on the task at hand. Whatever your preference, developing a pre-game routine will mean that no matter where you are or what time of day it is, if you've done A,B, and C, before getting up to speak, you'll be good to go.
Some practices to consider including in your pre-game routine:
Visualisation exercises (watching a mental videotape of yourself successfully delivering the speech/presentation)
Getting some fresh air
Going for a walk/run
Listening to music/a particular song
Positive self-talk (see previous post 'The Power of a Truth Statement')
Drinking a smoothie/eating a healthy snack
Pep talk with a trusted person
10) BEFORE A PRESENTATION, MIX AND MINGLE WITH YOUR AUDIENCE
If the opportunity arises, talk to the members of your audience beforehand. This will humanize them and help settle nerves. It will also give you deeper insight into who you're going to be speaking to and set up opportunities to make reference to those conversations during your presentation.
Preparation gives you the best chance of delivering a successful talk. Confidence comes from competence. Competence comes from preparation and knowing your stuff.