Yesterday, I mentioned that the single best way to avoid the anxiety that comes with public speaking is preparation. There simply is no substitute: having mastered your material will make you more confident, and confidence in yourself is essential if you want to appear credible in front of others.
Knowing you have to be prepared is a good start, but how, specifically, should you prepare? Practicing is certainly essential, but it’s not enough. There are six things that deserve careful consideration:
- The audience. Who will you be speaking to? How much do they know about the topic? What do they want to get out of the presentation? Will they be with you, against you, or neutral? How can you make everything you say relevant to them? Remember: if it’s not about them, they have no reason to pay attention to you.
- Your goal. What do you want to happen as a result of your presentation? Is there something specific you want the audience to know or do? Can you ask them to do it directly, or do you need to be more subtle? How do you position yourself for the greatest possible success without being selfish and losing focus on the audience’s needs? Finally, ask yourself, if you don’t have a goal, why are you presenting at all?
- The setting. Where will you be presenting? Is there anything in the environment that could prove distracting to you or the audience? Will you be at a podium, on a stage, or standing on the floor with the audience? How will tables be arranged in the room? Where do you need to position yourself based on where the projector and screen are? Most importantly, can you check out the venue ahead of time to anticipate any issues and make changes?
- The technology. Do you know how to use PowerPoint, your projector, and any supplemental a/v that’s incorporated into your talk? Will everything you need be provided for you, or do you need to bring your own? Have you accounted for Internet access (if you need to navigate to a website or show a streaming video, for example) and sound (so the audience can hear the video). Even better, can you download or preload video so you don’t have to wait for it to load during your presentation? Technology lapses are an open invitation for the audience to turn their attention elsewhere.
- Your voice. When you’re not used to it, few things are more jarring that the sound of your own voice in the absence of other sounds. If you don’t want this to come as a surprise, be sure to practice your presentation out loud. Not only will this make you comfortable with the sound of your own voice, but it will allow you to identify places where you stumble. This doesn’t mean you have to practice your presentation in front of a group or even one other person. Practice in front of your dog. Practice in the car. But by all means, practice out loud. The truth is, if you don’t practice your presentation out loud, you really haven’t practiced at all.
- The questions. Q & A is one of the best parts of the presentation because it gets to what the audience really wants to know. It also represents your last chance to make an impression and perhaps your best chance to connect with individuals in the group. Before you present, then, consider what questions you may be asked, and carefully think through anything that might be difficult to answer. Remember, too, that it’s fair game to answer a question by saying “I don’t know, but I’ll look into it and get you an answer.” Preparing for questions doesn’t require that you anticipate everything you could be asked, just what you’re most likely to be asked based on what you’ve presented.
It’s important to remember, too, that the goal is excellence, not perfection. Focus on the items above, and you’ll do everything you can to position yourself well and avoid the variables that can get in your way.
For a more detailed discussion of how to prepare as a presenter, join me and Jon Swerens for “How to Create and Deliver a Great Presentation” at the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce next Wed., May 2, from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. I hope to see you there!