Preparing for a presentation is like packing for a long trip. You have to have a plan and you have to know how to follow through on it. Experienced travelers and presenters will both tell you that anticipating what you will need on your journey is essential. It is impossible to prepare for every potential situation. However, there are some proven strategies that lead to consistent and predictable success.
Know where you’re going. How can you even begin to pack unless you know what your destination is? Knowing your audience is like knowing what the average weather conditions are in your destination city. Whether your trip is fun or fancy will also have a bearing on what you pack. In a similar way, you want to understand the needs, interests and concerns of your listeners.
Know how you’re getting there. Focus on no more than three major ideas. Think, brood and recall the ideas, thoughts and feelings that appeal to you to find the thread that will connect one idea to the next. Write these ideas down and use them as a map that will lead to your destination.
Avoid the baggage fees. There is a limit to how much you can pack into your luggage. In the same way, you must trim your presentation down to just the three major ideas that you want your listeners to become aware of and ultimately understand. People, like luggage, can only hold so much at one time. Trying to over stuff and over achieve is never an effective approach. In fact, it can often cost you.
Be willing to ask for directions. There can be many opportunities to ask questions that help to engage your listeners. Early in your presentation, prepare rhetorical questions that consistently require a “yes” response. This will have the desired effect of getting the audience on your side. Very few of your listeners will get “lost” if they are actively engaged and responding. The Q and A portion at the end of most presentations is a wonderful time to reinforce the points you have already made. Don’t fear the questions!
Wear comfortable shoes. There is no travel metaphor here. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes.
Smile through every mile. Starting your presentation with a smile indicates that you are willing and open to sharing your perspective. Allow your audience to look forward to what is coming next. By smiling you will also be exuding that all important self-confidence. If you look like you are enjoying the ride, there is a good chance that your listeners will, too. Let them follow your lead.
Never “go it” alone. Consider your audience to always be your travel companion. Most listeners are more than willing to take the journey along with you once they know they have a strong, positive, presentation leader driving the bus. Your body language goes a long way in communicating that their trust is well placed.
Give yourself enough time to take it all in. You didn’t come this far just to “get it over with”. Take the time to communicate your message. This strategy will also provide the time needed for your audience to process the message. This means pausing when you need to breathe, when you need to answer a question and when you want to add a little dramatic effect. Savor the moment and the sights around you. Take a mental snapshot for your success scrapbook.
Like a well earned getaway, a presentation is a departure from your normal, daily routine. It is likely that you will find yourself in situations that you have never encountered before. Preparation is your greatest asset. Consider what your needs will be; anticipate inevitable, yet exciting changes and be open to new experiences. Utilizing these strategies will increase your potential for success. You may even find yourself looking forward to your next presentation adventure.