This week I presented at a conference all about Evidence-based HR. And now I'm about to make a wild claim about the time it takes to prepare for a presentation based largely on my own experience. Not quite evidence-based research but a healthy hunch that means well. So, how long does it take you to prepare an important, new or complex presentation thoroughly? Not to do the research behind it, to be clear, but to prepare content and get ready to deliver, that's the quiz question for now.
Well, it's not quite Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour assertion of mastery but I'm going to put it out there and say that 10 hours seems a minimum. I often work with people on their presentations and we always have a good chat about preparation. We all know it matters but what does it really involve?
1. Content and delivery are two sides of the same coin. There’s no substitute for properly prepared content and, no, I'm not talking about your slides. Your content is what you will say to attend to your communication goal (the impact you want to have).
2. Without question, you’re the main medium, constantly fighting for your audience's attention. Imagine they're sitting there wearing a t-shirt on saying 'make me care'. Preparation should focus on how you intend to move the audience with you at every juncture. Keep it interesting and keep it shorter than people expect, always.
3. Ask yourself ‘does my audience need this slide to help them grasp my content?' and never ‘do I need this slide to remember what to say?’ As Graham Davies says in his great book The Presentation Coach 'use them as a weapon not wallpaper'. Slides are simply not a presentation.
4. Preparation should include memorable phrases you want to stick. Sorry to be such an anti-slide extremist but they really do get in the way of so many presentations. It's amazing how much time people spend on slide animations without taking real care with the words they’ll say. Nobody will ever leave grateful that your slides faded or zoomed.
5. Preparation should include your opening hook - how will you grab people's attention in the opening 30 seconds? Beware of the 'introductory remarks' trap. Boring! You’ve just wasted that short period when people are deciding if they'll listen to you by saying hello, your name and job title. Most people don’t care. Harsh but quite often true.
6. Preparing should include choosing and shaping stories that bring meaning and emotion to your presentation. This takes time to get right. Be a story detective. US author Paul Auster once said that ‘stories only happen to people who are able to tell them’. You have to look!
7. Preparing shouldn't include trying to memorise a script. Honestly it shouldn’t. It's daunting and not that realistic. Yes, know your topic inside out but don't think this means having words etched in your brain. Have anchor points to help you stay on track.
8. Preparing means working out what causes you ‘performance interference' as they say in elite sport and doing what you can to mitigate it. You'll be surprised how much is in your control when you write a list of what's making you nervous.
9. Be you. Yes, be you with skill, but work out who you really are as a presenter. If you’re not funny then don’t make jokes. If you need to move around the stage, go on then. Just do it mindfully, always aware of the impact on your audience. The audience will respond to a person not a script memoriser. Watch other people for inspiration but create a formula that works for you and your audiences
10. Do not use bullet points. Just don't.