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Preparing And Practicing Your Presentation

Apr 25, 2008
"Anyone can do any amount of work provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at the moment." Robert Benchley

Procrastination. We are all guilty of that particular vice. Don't do it. Take the first step in preparing your presentation. Force yourself onto the chair and get ready. Preparation may not be the most exciting aspect of your project, but it can be the single most important ingredient in your presentation. You may be able to charm anyone on the spot or possess the charisma of the most dynamic person in the world, but without preparation for a speech or meeting, you can still stumble and fall. How to prepare then?

First, imagine your audience. Who they are. What their expectations are. How you will connect with them. What you want to tell them. What you hope to accomplish. The specifics: Where you will be when you give your presentation - the facilities, the lighting. You need to know specifically what type of presentation you're going to give. Are you motivating an audience? Giving valuable and/or timely information? Trying to sell something? How are you going to do it? What are you going to say?

Ideas, ideas, ideas. You have so many. Random or specific, write all these ideas down. Even if they don't seem to relate to each other. Take three minutes and scribble ideas for your presentation on a sheet of paper. Don't over-think this process. Ideas that may sound ridiculous at first can spur other more sensible and/or practical ideas; they can create unusual associations that lead to unique insights. Don't stop writing. Don't edit or go back and cross out any words. Let your thoughts flow like a river. As in visual art, make thumbnail sketches but with words rather than pictures.

All right. Now what? Take another three minutes to review what you've written. With pen or pencil or felt markers, make circles and arrows to connect logical relationships between the ideas. Which ones relate to each other. Identify ideas that might surprise you and turn out to be sub-points of other ideas. Rearrange ideas that fall logically before others. Pinpoint your main ideas.

Construct a linear sequence of your ideas. Create an opening, a body and a conclusion. A natural balance of three, the main parts of your presentation, so that it will flow easily yet effectively. Make an outline of how all the ideas work together.

Once you have your presentation organized and written down, how will you open? First, you'll need an icebreaker to warm up your audience. Choose one, depending on your style. Tell a joke or a story. Ask a question. Try an unusual move; body language speaks volumes. Change your tone of voice. Give the audience a startling fact, theory or controversial statement. Use props or audience participation. Or choose a unique way of your own to open your presentation. The main thing is to create a way to get the audience's attention, then introduce your objective - the purpose or goal of your presentation.

Then, the next trick is to keep the audience's attention with the body of your presentation. Add rhetorical technique. The various ways to make and support each of your points. To do this, plan to use examples, analogies or questions. Weave a personal story throughout your presentation. Use metaphors, ones which clearly illustrate your points. If it works for your particular presentation, plan a demonstration or a physical example to drive your ideas forward. To round out your presentation, create a fabulous conclusion.

There are more than just words to a presentation. You need to craft the gestures you will use. You don't want to stand like a stick on the stage. Use gestures to activate your body's kinesthetic awareness, how it feels to move expansively while presenting. Trying out new gestures might be uncomfortable for you, but they will increase the awareness of what your body is doing while your mind is processing the content. Create three gestures and include them in your presentation. In the beginning, forcing yourself to try some new gestures will help you see what works. After you expand your range of gestures, they will become more natural and original. Try these gestures with parts of your text while observing yourself in a mirror. Make sure your elbows extend well out from your torso.

Practice and time your presentation. If your notes are too extensive, it won't be easy or convenient to read them while presenting. If you need notes, use word fragments (one to four words) limited to your most important points (A half dozen for most presentations.). Write these word fragments on index cards.

Finally, practice, practice, practice. Use your mirror, your friends, your dog. Record yourself, audio and visual. Study it. Time it. Cut it, edit it, smooth it out so that when you give your presentation, you will know it so well you won't need those dog-eared index cards after all.
About the Author
The Henderson Group trains and coaches business professionals in the art of communication and presentation through our experiential methodology. Since 1990, The Henderson Group has helped Fortune 500 companies worldwide improve employee productivity and business results through the development of communication skills. You can find us online at SpeakFearlessly.net and HendersonGroup.com or Attend A Workshop
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