Being asked to give a public presentation is gratifying and frightening. The gratification is natural since you can assume your innate talents have been noted, your expertise acknowledged and your humility respected! How rare is that? The feeling of fright is also entirely natural – caused mainly by the uncertainty and the unknown. But you can overcome a fear of public speaking. Indeed it is typically tackled by solid preparation and planning which are the essential attributes for effective presentations but there are also a number of questions to ask beforehand that can guarantee you give a sensational presentation.
1. Who wants you to speak and which organisation do they represent?
There is every chance that the person asking you to present is known to you. But equally they might have contacted you through a third party or via a contact in your LinkedIn network for example. In that case, it makes sense to put the contact into context and establish who they work for, whether they are independent or who they represent.
2. What are their contact details?
Even if you know the person who invites you to make a presentation it’s a good idea to confirm the best contact details. Check whether their cellphone has changed or whether an email is preferred. And if the presentation organiser is not known to you then it is absolutely essential that you establish contact arrangements – which are, of course, reciprocal.
3. What is the planned event?
It’s vital to establish what event is being planned. Is it a sales conference or an annual Association meeting? Is it a meeting of technical partners or a product launch? Knowing some simple details of the event allows you to prepare. For example, if you are asked to speak at an Association’s annual meeting you should establish the Association by name and its primary function. It could be a Trade Association or a charity. Knowing these details allows you to picture your potential audience and your likely participation.
4. When and where is the planned event?
Distance is not dead. Knowing when and where the event is due to occur must be identified right away. If the event is local that might make it easier to participate. Alternatively, if the event involves significant travel it might be possible to combine your participation with some other activity. Some knowledge of when the event is planned for will also provide some clues. If the event is next week then you can be assured that more than one speaker has dropped out and you are being asked out of necessity. It does happen, unfortunately. Typically presentation planners work to timescales of several months when planning key events.
5. How many speakers will be involved?
It’s a rarity for any speaker to be the sole presenter on the podium. In most instances, you will share the platform with several speakers with a budgeted time allowance of some 30 minutes. Perhaps longer. Knowing how many speakers are involved gives you an indication of the event’s importance, its profile within its industry and its potential attendance. And as a tip, once you have established how many speakers are involved you have the means to explore their details at a later time.
6. What is the theme of the event?
It’s not unusual for event planners to use a theme with which to identify their event. Using a theme such as, Being Best, allows a range of speakers to explore all the essential attributes of customer care, quality management, production quality or people management. It provides a framework for each speaker and importantly, allows each speaker to interact sub-consciously with the rest of the platform. Knowing the theme at this stage is essential for your preparation. And if there is no clear theme you should aim to get this on the presentation planner’s agenda later.
7. What sort of presentation is expected from you?
This might be a purely mechanical question, but you have to ask it. For instance, there might be an expectation that you will make a presentation and then answer questions later. Or, you might be expected to sit on a speaker panel, make a presentation in turn and then have questions asked collectively of the panel later. Different formats require different preparation and you should understand the event requirements early on.
8. Why are you being asked to present?
You should take care with this question. If the event is planned for next week you might already suspect the answer! But there is a serious point to be made. If you are being asked to present because you are a respected expert in your field then it’s very likely that your presentation subject is going to be crafted along the same lines. Alternatively, if you are asked to present because of your work in a particular organisation then it’s natural to consider citing relevant organisation case studies and references when you move on with presentation planning.
9. What visual elements can be supported and will the event be broadcast?
You take it for granted that every event supports multimedia content. But if you are asked to speak before or after lunch then the visual dimension of your talk will be very different to a standard podium presentation. You must pick up this point later with the event planner. It’s not unusual for the media to be involved with larger-scale events. Knowledge about media involvement at this stage is important since a late surprise might prove a problem. If the media is to be involved then you should ensure that your marketing or PR team is aware of their involvement which could be mutually productive.
10. Can I call you back to confirm?
This is not as hard as it sounds. You will need to check your schedule. Or you might need to check with your partner. Alternatively, you might want to see whether anything else in the schedule is moveable to accommodate this event. On the basis of the answers that you have already received this invitation might be a case of…“drop everything and attend,” or an instance of…“try to squeeze it in if possible.” Once you have agreed on a timeline in which to call back the planner you must call them back. It’s sensible. You will need their active support and involvement later.
So, you have ten easy questions to ask before you agree to give that presentation. In essence, they are the first steps you need to take to master that presentation. By asking them you acquire much of the useful information that will subsequently guide your presentation planning process. And by planning effectively you ensure that you present effectively without fear of public speaking. Now, should you accept that invitation or not?