By: Suzanne Bates, author of Speak Like a CEO: Secrets For Commanding Attention and Getting Results
A great presentation requires research, preparation and practice. Use the steps below as guide.
You need new, interesting and current information to communicate effectively. Audiences want fresh ideas and cutting-edge thinking. One of the obligations of the speaker is to make the presentation worth their time. Whether speaking to a conference, a reporter, your employees, or the public, you have to be constantly looking for new material that will have an impact on your audience.
Research is an ongoing activity, but you may want to set aside specific time to read or go on the internet. You might want to interview people before an event. You may assign other people to help you with research, but you will need time to review it.
It’s a good idea to keep each event file handy so you can throw in items when you find them. Even if you see something in a book, make a photocopy and put it into the file. Places where you will find information include: magazines, books, newspapers, web sites, movies, brochures, comedy shows, radio programs, television programs and how-to books. I encourage people to read, watch, or listen to things they don’t normally see or hear to get a fresh perspective and to stay current.
Preparation is organizing, writing and editing. There is no right or wrong way to do this; just have a system that works for you. Once you have gathered information in your files, you can sort through and start organizing, outlining and writing.
Why create an outline? I learned a lot about that from writing this book. An outline helps you see on paper what is there, and what is missing. By writing it down, you can study it and get ideas before you begin writing or putting together slides. One mistake many people make is putting together slide presentations from the slides they already have in their computers before they think about what they want to say and create an outline.
Depending on the event or project, in preparation phase, you may want to write down:
- The big idea
- Three main points
- Questions your audience (or the reporter) might have
- A story
- Talking points
- Elements/graphs for slides
Should you write out what you are going to say, jot down bullet points, or make note cards? That depends on two things: your personal preference, and the type of presentation you are giving. A formal keynote is typically written out. A meeting is typically done from an agenda. An informal meeting may work best from note cards.
You have to practice to give a good presentation. The top speakers in the world practice a presentation several times before they give it. You can cheat on practice time, but as parents all over the world say, “You will only be cheating yourself.” Practice not only helps you perform better, it reduces anxiety because you are confident and prepared.
Go into a conference room or close your office door and go over the materials sitting in your chair. Read or scan the notes out loud. Then stand up and go through it in real time. Practice out loud several times. I do not recommend practicing out loud in your car because you will be distracted, or on a plane, because you cannot speak loudly enough (unless you want to annoy your seat mate.)
Here are some other tips on practice:
- Don’t wait until the last minute. Depending upon the length of the talk, you may need a completed script a week or two in advance so you can practice several times. Put it onto your calendar as an appointment with yourself.
- Use a mirror. Since you are your own toughest critic, you will be able to recognize distracting gestures, awkward stances and wandering eye contact right away. Don’t use this technique until you have already practiced without the mirror so you already know the material reasonably well.
- Record audio and/or video. Play back a recording of your speech. This will help you identify areas that need improvement. With an audio recording, you’ll be able to hear annoying vocal habits, areas of hesitation or uncertainty, and awkward sentence structures.
- Don’t memorize. You are in too much danger of forgetting what you want to say. Learn concepts, practice phrasing, but don’t be a slave to saying it word-for-word the way it’s written.
- Use a script or outline. Practice enough so that the note cards or outline are so familiar, you only have to glance at them. That will make you look prepared and sound more natural.
- Time your presentation. If you have a time requirement you must meet, timing your presentation will help you decide what to cut, or what to expand. One of the cardinal rules of speaking is to never take more time than you’ve been given.
- Use a friendly test audience. Asking a trusted colleague or mentor to listen will help you begin to get comfortable in front of other people.
- Visualize success. As you practice, learn how to see the audience in your mind’s eye. The more you can imagine the room, the people, the smiles, the applause, and yourself at the podium in control, the more successful you will be when the day comes.