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Published on: HR Coaching & Mentoring

How to prepare for an important presentation

What happens when you have to stand up in front of a room full of people or give a board meeting presentation?

Do your knees shake and your palms start to sweat?

With all those eyes on you it can be hard to focus. Are you meant to picture your audience in their underwear? How on earth does that help anyway?

Take comfort in the fact very few people escape the fear of public speaking. Some say as many as 75% of people have some form of phobia of it. Unfortunately, needing to give a presentation often come with the territory of a leadership role. And when you have an important presentation to get ready for, it is understandable that you might be a bit anxious or unsure where to start.

Hopefully the following tips will help to get you ready for your next presentation:

 Before the presentation
Before you even take the spotlight, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to prepare, so you aren’t rushing anything at the last minute.The following tips may help with your preparation…

Know your audience
Make sure you do your research.

For small groups, such as board meetings, know their individual backgrounds, and what projects or subject matter they are most familiar with. Ensure you tailor your content to suit their differing needs.  For larger groups, be aware of what they will want to hear and what they may already know. This will help you design your presentation in a way that avoids telling them things they have already heard before.

Have a punchy closing message – and write that first! 
This might feel like a peculiar way of doing things – writing the ending before you’ve written the rest.  Why is it important? Well – put simply, people remember the first and last things you say. This is known as primacy/recency effect and it really does make a difference to prepare and deliver your presentation with this in mind.

KEY QUESTION: What is the key message you want people to remember?

Write it down in a single, punchy sentence.

If you can’t get it to one sentence right away, write what you want to say, and then edit it down. People will remember a phrase – not a paragraph. Once you’ve got your message to a single sentence, use that as your closing line. You can also tailor it to use as your opening introduction – see later for more on that.

Have a simple structure
Once you’ve decided on your punchy closing message, decide what points you want to make to convince the audience.  Ensure you have a clear message and good data to support it. What is the evidence that supports your argument?

KEY QUESTION: What’s in it for the people you are presenting to?

Make 3-5 points – one point per slide.

Keep your visuals simple
And while we are on the topic of slides….

Do not read from the slides. I repeat…. DO NOT READ FROM THE SLIDES.

It’s a very bold step to deliver an entire presentation without the safety net of slides, and I wouldn’t recommend that if you are nervous already.

KEY QUESTION: Can you deliver the entire presentation without looking at the slides?  Do you know the topic well enough?  If not, practise.

If there is a lot of information to share, consider preparing handouts for people to refer to afterwards.  Board meetings are often preceded by pre-reading, to avoid the need for lengthy detailed presentations.  Make use of this and circulate information you want people to be aware of in more detail than you can cover in the presentation.

If presenting to a large group, consider providing a link to where people can find more detail online.

Now write your introduction
It might feel odd to do this last, but remember – you’ve already written your punchy closing line.  The message you want everyone to walk away with.

KEY QUESTION: how are you going to get them interested in what you’ve got to say?

Once you’ve written your content, you will be able to pick several key areas that will interest the audience, and weave this together with your message or solution.

Rehearse the first 2 minutes – so you know it word for word
Know EXACTLY what you are going to say in the first 2 minutes.  I mean – know it, word for word. Rehearse it again and again.  Know it off by heart and without notes. It is during the first 2 minutes that you are most likely to have a mind blank. Once you are in your flow, with the clear structure you’ve already planned, it will be much easier to ad lib.

You will also make a fantastic first impression.  You will ooze confidence and people will be less likely to notice the nerves that might come later if you lose your train of thought.

Be concise and stick to the point
It is important to give enough detail to be interesting, but not so much that you start to drone on – be concise. Your presentation should be slick and professional, but that does not mean boring! Know how much time you have been allocated.

Rehearse
Talking through the ideas and having a test run of your presentation can really help to build your confidence. You can do this with a colleague, or even with a coach.

Contingency Plan
Have a tech-fail back up plan.

KEY QUESTION: What will you do if the slideshow doesn’t work?

Do you have hard copies to circulate (when presenting to smaller groups)?  And do you know your content well enough to do the presentation without slides?

Think about how you will prepare for these scenarios so that you don’t fail even if the technology does.

During the presentation
It is showtime! Be ready to rock that presentation …

Be on time and ready to go
Punctuality is incredibly important when you are giving a presentation. Allow enough time to make sure the technology works.

Clench your bum and take a deep breath
Yes, you read that right.  A public speaking coach once told me that if you clench your bum before you start to speak, it calms you down.  And the beauty of it is no one knows you are doing it. Try it and let me know if it works for you!

In any case, you know the first 2 minutes off by heart, so there is nothing to worry about.

Just say thank you
Once you’ve delivered your killer closing line, just finish with a simple ‘thank you very much’ (preferably not Elvis stylee!), pause for a moment just to let people know that’s the end of your presentation, and then ask if anyone has any questions.  If you mumble, shrug that’s all folks, or do any other kind of ramble, you will lose the impact you’ve just made.

Just say ‘Thank you’.  Then PAUSE for 3 seconds.  Then ask ‘do you have any questions?’.  Easy.

Dealing with questions 
Remain calm if you get asked something that you don’t know the answer to. Don’t try to make things up or guess at the answer on the spot. You will only look unprofessional if you provide incorrect detail. In fact, being honest about your limitations actually shows authenticity and builds trust.  Just note the queries down and tell them you will follow them up as soon as possible.

After the presentation
The work doesn’t end when you walk out of the room. There will always be some follow up work to complete.

The first thing you should do after your presentation is follow up on any questions that you need to find answers to. You don’t want to keep people waiting, especially if answers are needed before any decisions can be made, if your presentation is a proposal.

It is also a good idea to debrief with your own manager or with a coach or mentor. Review what went well and what didn’t, and what your key lessons are for your next presentation. Depending on the relationship your manager has with the board, they may even be able to get some feedback for you from the members themselves. This sounds scary, but it is a great way to find out which areas you might need further development or coaching in.

Who knows, you might even get compliments!

Enjoyed this blog?
Another great way to build confidence in giving presentations is to undergo a strength analysis to help you to recognise the areas you excel in and where you might need some extra work. Feel free to get in touch to see how I can help you blitz your next presentation.

Please share your experiences and helpful tips in the comments below, and use the buttons to share with your network and keep the conversation going.

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