As a professional presenter and coach, I am often asked; what's the key to giving an effective presentation? I start out by saying what is not — proper posture, voice projection, clean appearance or any of the other qualities we associate with good speakers. Like the real estate slogan "location, location, location", my motto is "practice, practice, practice".
Practice is probably the most overlooked preparation technique but the most powerful one for improving the quality of your talk. At the end of the day, not practicing is your biggest risk, not the lack of flashy PowerPoint graphics.
Like a sport, your presentation will have inherent weaknesses, even potential land mines — an incomplete idea, poor sequencing of a topic or too much detail about a subject. Practice helps identify those weaknesses when nothing is at risk, that is, when you are not under the spotlight of your audience. Here are some techniques to uncover these presentation land mines:
- Technique 1: Find an empty room in your office or home. Stand up and picture your audience waiting for you to begin speaking. Verbally introduce yourself to your imaginary audience, describing what you're going to talk about. Now here's the important part - As you speak, listen for your own clarity and understanding of the topic. When you find yourself unclear about anything, stop and ask yourself, "Why am I speaking about this?" Speak that part again, setting a better context for the topic.
- Technique 2: Invite someone you trust to listen to your practice session. This will have a very positive impact on your comfort level when you finally do the actual talk. Ask for feedback on anything they found confusing or unclear. Let them know about the audience you will be speaking to and ask them to listen from that point of view.
- Technique 3: After you've successfully practiced it once, do it one more time. This one extra run- through can make the difference between being comfortable and just getting through it.
A good backhand looks easy. What you don't see is the practice performed to get there. And once you observe the benefit derived from practicing your talk, you will never go back to being completely unrehearsed.
Practice makes perfect sense. Try it out.
Presentation Tip: Dealing With Falling Behind
No matter how good you are, you will run out of time in your presentation. Too often, I have heard presenters say to a group "we've fallen behind, so we need to, etc." This commentary adds no value to your presentation. On the contrary, it unnecessarily flags a problem where there was none.
Alternative: Privately adjust your agenda to make up for lost time (translation-cut stuff out!) and proceed as if this were your plan all along.