6 rock solid preparation tips for a successful presentation
Good preparation is like assembling a bicycle. It needs both wheels if you expect to ride on it. Obvious.
So why do so many presenters produce the speech equivalent of a bicycle with a missing wheel?
Wheel number one is the message. Wheel number two is the audience. Much of your ability to connect message to audience will be in your manner and style on the day, but a great deal of it starts with your preparation. This guide shows how to assemble your bicycle with both wheels ready to roll. Get free expert advice on how to prepare and rehearse for your all-important presentation.
How to rehearse effectively
Whatever rehearsal method you use, do your first the day before and do it as close as you can to going to sleep. At night your subconscious goes to work on problems, using resources you didn’t even know you had. Rehearse again in the morning and you’ll find a marked improvement.
Act your rehearsal, don’t just say it. Act it with all the enthusiasm and emphasis you can muster, because that makes it sink in.
Passion makes rehearsal potent
- Act it in front of a mirror. Try to persuade your reflected self.
- Pace around in a room, talking to your imagined audience.
- Enlist the help of a friend or colleague as a trial audience. Again, treat it as a performance, not just rehearsal of verbal content.
Dress for the part
I once saw a speech entirely ruined by the clothes of the presenter. At first sight there wasn’t much difference between his clothes and ours. Most of us were in good jeans, open necked shirts and casual shoes. He was in faded jeans held up with string, a T shirt, and thongs, in each case only one grade down on what we wore. And yet the focus of the audience was so drawn to his attire, his message was lost. His intention, I guessed, was to say to his audience, I am not a stuffed shirt like those who normally give speeches. At the intellectual level, they got that message. But at the visceral level they got entirely another, which said, I do not respect you.
If possible, dress the same or slightly better than your audience.
But never dress below your normal range, because your audience will sense that it just isn’t you. I once did a television news feature on a bikie gang. Had I dressed the same or even slightly better than the bikies I would have been seen as false and—rightly—earned their contempt. I stayed in jacket and tie. They stayed in filthy jeans and tee shirts. We communicated with no problems.
If you arrive right on show-time assuming everything will be okay, you’re inviting disaster. Depending on the venue, you may have a lot to do. If it’s a big occasion, then you’ll need to develop immediate rapport with the organizer. Your relationship with the chairman will have a subtle effect on the tone of voice she uses to introduce you. As for the technician, just remember that only God has more power over your presentation.
Check the layout of the room
- Is the promised equipment there? Immediately check every detail down to felt pens and rubbish bin.
- Are all the visual aids in the best location?
- Is the audience going to be comfortable? Will they be able to see? Will they have sun shining directly on them? Can you work the air conditioning?
- Make sure you know which buttons to push. The audience will forgive only so much bumbling about trying to figure how things work. Make sure the laptop and the data-projector are talking to each other. Get the image straight and focused.
- Are you dependent on someone else to work the PowerPoint slides? Rehearse your cues and signals.
- If you have sound effects, make sure that they’re at the right level. If it’s background effects, the audience must be able to hear your words without being distracted.
- For big venues, check the lighting to be directed at you. Best is two lights, 45° to each side of centre and 45° up from the horizontal. And remember that even if you can’t see your audience, they need to see you well lit. Walking in and out of the pool of light will have the same effect as switching your audience on and off.
Check that everything works and that you can work everything.
Give special attention to sound system and lectern.
Either of them can seriously affect your authority.
- Is the lectern too high? If the highest part is above your sternum, it is, and you’ll need to find a box. And don’t hesitate to use it. A very short former New Zealand cabinet minister used to carry an apple box to the lectern, step up onto it and give impressive, authoritative speeches.
- Check how to speak into the microphone. Each microphone type has its own personality. Does it rub on your jacket when you move? For lapel mikes, can you turn your head and still be heard?
- Is the microphone at the right sound level? Surprise the technician by telling her that in spite of the microphone, you’re still planning to raise your voice to project. The microphone needs only enough “level” to make sure you reach into the far corners of the room. Regardless of microphone, a large audience must see and hear you making an effort to reach them.
- What kind of microphone? There are three main choices. For most, the first choice is the lapel mike. Next best is the hand-held radio mike which has high quality sound and the comfort of something to hold. There’s the fixed lectern mike, which works only if you have no intention of getting out from behind the lectern.
You do still find hand-held mikes on the end of a long cord. Take care moving around; the danger is that you can become a walking spindle, providing comic relief while you try to talk about the need for more dignity and decorum at staff meetings.
Check how you’re going to be introduced
Beware of inappropriate introductions. Who needs a fanfare about your virtues and accomplishments when you’re going to announce the closing of the factory.
For more on presenting you can download the free eBook “The Engaging Presenter Part I – How to prepare” written by Michael Douglas Brown.