The four deadliest words a prospective presenter can say are, “I’ll just wing it.”
When it comes to presentation excellence, professionalism is synonymous with preparation. Audiences may forgive initial jitters but they will rarely forgive an unpolished performance. In a highly competitive business world ‘winging it’ is risky business. Be prepared. Be professional. You may be a subject expert however this alone does not ensure that you can effectively communicate your knowledge to an audience.
You may argue, “I know someone who is a great presenter and she tells me she wings it all the time.” I would receive the proclamation with caution and skepticism. You may recall the student who told you she only starts studying the night before exams and always gets an ‘A’. Believing this to be true, the next time you have an exam you cram the night before only to be shocked when you receive an ‘F’. I’m not so cynical to think that the ‘A’ student was leading you to fail, but rather, she likely wanted to impress you with her scholastic expertise. Having said that, there are those amazing few presenters who have the innate talent to deliver presentations with limited preparation. The rest of we mortals need to plan and practice.
Audiences know when you lack preparation and they don’t like it. It makes them feel that you didn’t think they were worth the time. They attend presentations with high expectations and low attention spans. To keep people engaged requires substantive content and dynamic delivery. A sign that you have successfully engaged your audience is when you are able to stop them from reaching for their smartphones while you speak.
A DISCIPLINED PROCESS
One of the first questions I ask when coaching a client is, “What’s your process? The common response is, “I build a deck and put speaker notes below the slides.” A good start but that is only about 50% of the equation. Your road to success begins with a disciplined process which is a combination of efficient planning and diligent practice. As one of my acting instructors once said, “It is not how many hours you practice, but rather how you practice in those hours.”
I have my clients deliver their presentations twice in a row to see if they are able to repeat the presentation with consistent content and delivery. You don’t want to be a ‘one hit wonder’ who presents on a wing and a prayer. The high standard of delivery and messaging needs to be repeatable. Imagine if you attended a theatre production on a night when the cast was performing erratically – lines missed, sloppy staging, and lack of enthusiasm. You would feel cheated by the experience and the ticket price.
BEWARE THE SHORTER IS EASIER MYTH
There is a popular misconception that a shorter presentation is easier to prepare.
A shorter presentation doesn’t mean you can take shortcuts. It is known among professional speakers that the less time you are given to speak, the greater the challenge. Short presentations can actually require more preparation than a lengthier one. Why? You have limited time to engage your audience and communicate your ideas. The messages need to be delivered with precision. Economy of words is critical. This notable saying underscores the point, “If I had more time I would have written a shorter letter.”
The more you practice the less nervous you will be. If you have anxiety when you speak, particularly when stakes are high, why sabotage yourself by not being properly prepared? Some people think they need oxygen and medication to make it through their presentation. What they really need is to prepare and practice to build their confidence.
Here is a list of suggestions to practice properly:
- Deliver at performance level.
- Time your presentation for repeatable consistency and continuity.
- Visualize a positive response.
- Practice advancing slides along with verbal transitions.
- Tape record your presentation to evaluate your delivery and refine content.
- Repeat process and refine content and delivery until you feel confident.