Tim, a big cycling fan, has signed himself up for a very important race. But in the months leading up to the race, he finds himself so caught up with looking for the perfect bike, the sharpest jersey, the best leg hair removal method, that he is left with hardly any time to train or study the route.
What do you think: will Tim claim a podium place? Likely not. He may not even cross the finish.
Practice is everything, that’s a given. And while we all agree on this for cyclists, we ourselves don’t bat an eye at appearing in front of an audience unprepared. That just doesn’t seem right.
Plenty of speakers prepare just like Tim, devoting all their time to their slides. Leaving them with little time to practice their presentation or come up with a strategy to make the biggest impact. The outcome? A puzzled audience that is ready to doze off.
So what is the best way to prepare? Take a look at our 5-step plan:
Step 1: brainstorm
What is your main message? What would you like the audience to remember or do?
Consider this carefully, as this will be the foundation of your presentation. Instead of focusing on what is important to you, rather try to discover what is useful and interesting for your audience and adjust your message accordingly.
The best place to brainstorm may not always be your office. My personal favorite is a coffee bar. But for you this may be a hammock, or simply sitting on a bench in the middle of the woods. Any spot where you feel inspired is a good spot.
Step 2: structure
Once you have seen the light, it is time to pour your ideas into a workable structure. Grab a sheet of paper and divide it into three sections. The top section will be your intro. Note down the problem you are tackling and what your answer to it is.
The mid-section will contain three main questions that you will be answering during your presentation. Feel free to further subdivide each question, adding a couple of keywords here and there that you wish to cover during your presentation.
The bottom section will be your conclusion. What would you like your audience to remember? Communicate your main message and wrap things up with a clear call to action.
Step 3: test it out
You have your structure mapped out. Time for a first reading of your presentation.
‘But I don’t have any slides yet!’, I can hear you think. That’s right, this read-through will be without the slides.
Check how much time you need to tell your story. You will likely need to drop some content to remain within the time permitted. Some parts will need tweaking. Or will simply need to be rewritten. No problem, this is the time to do so.
Step 4: slides
Time to bring out the slides on your laptop. The slides will act as a guide for your audience, or help visualize your message. Do not make them into a handout onto which you dump anything you think of, or even your cheat sheet.
So why not begin creating your slides in step 1? Because you don’t have a clear outline of your presentation yet. Imagine having to drop that one slide you painstakingly worked on, the one you were so proud of. And that hurts.
Step 5: practice (x5)
Your content is all set and your slides are ready to go. Now comes the real work: practicing your presentation. But how? Out loud, standing upright, in front of a mirror, if not a camera. Why a camera? Because this will give you immediate feedback. Afraid to watch? Know that this is exactly what your audience will get to see. Instead of letting it get you down, why not perfect things until you get it just right!
How often should you practice? That is up to you. But five times, at least. The first time things will not go as planned. The second time? Same scenario. Third time? Improving. Fourth time? Getting there. Fifth time? Yes, that’s better.
So, the clearer your main message, the easier your structure, the smoother your practice talk and the faster it will be to create fitting slides. And the more you practice, the less stressed you will feel during your presentation.
‘But I don’t have time for that.’
Going through each of those 5 steps seems time-consuming. Your first time will take some time. But the more often you do this, the easier it will become. And more importantly: the bigger your impact will be. And that’s what it is all about! (Yet another plus is that you will enjoy yourself all the more so on stage!)
Write these five steps on a post-it in mirror writing and stick it onto your forehead, so you will know exactly how to prepare for your next presentation.
The five steps on a post-it in mirror writing:
In front of the mirror:
(Photo cooking preparation homepage: Caroline Attwood, photo bicycle: Rob Bye)