How to Prepare for a Presentation

The CEO’s guide to prepping for the perfect presentation.

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Over 500 employees are packing into the auditorium. They’ve had this date on their calendar for at least a month, and you can feel the suspense, anticipation, and excitement. People are buzzing as they wait for the new CEO, we’ll call him Bob, to emerge from backstage. There’s some mood music piping from the speakers, and on the screen is the company’s redesigned logo. After a few more minutes, Bob emerges to a thunderous applause and takes his spot behind the lectern…

A few minutes after he begins to speak, the energy in the room drops. The employees’ eyes start to wander. They start checking their cellphones and exiting for the bathrooms. His confidence waning, Bob begins desperately scanning the audience for a new fan – anyone paying attention with passion. When this fails, he drops his much-practiced speech and begins horribly ad-libbing. He stumbles over his words, and his posture becomes stiff and robotic. The audience’s interest level is doing a nose dive. What happened?

Bob may have won his position through effective leadership and work ethic, but that doesn’t mean he’s a great presenter. If you’re in a leadership role, the ability to speak and present well are critical skills for taking your organization.

Walk the Walk to Talk the Talk.

Image is a big factor in leadership – and how leaders are perceived usually provides a barometer of their effectiveness and success. This might sound superficial and unfair to many, but it is a highly tangible phenomenon.

If you want people to believe in you and what you say, you have to look and sound confident. To give a successful presentation, the audience needs to believe in the speaker – which involves building trust.

Building trust relies on these three factors:

1. What you say — 7%
2. How you sound — 38%
3. What they see — 55%

So what do you do to build this trust? There are many ways to take your presentation skills to the next level…

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Quick Tips to Up Your Speaking Game

Do your homework. Look for ideas and techniques that interest you, and then ‘try them on’ in your next presentation to see how they helped. Study speakers and presentations carefully. Pull things from their talks that you liked, want to avoid and then give it your individual twist. Authenticity is a biggy!

Know your audience. This is something that many speakers forget about when speaking to a new group at a conference, event, or workshop. It’s best practice to contact the event coordinator and get a grasp on who’s going to be in the room so you can prepare your talk to be valuable for that group of people. You’ll also want to understand how big of a room/group and what level of expertise do they have surrounding your talk’s topic.

Plan for the Q&A session. If there’s time at the end of your talk for Q&A, it’s best to anticipate what those questions are ahead of time and try to incorporate them into your talk and then prepare for them to be framed in different ways from your audience. Again, knowing who’s in the room will help you prepare.

Always warm up before giving a talk. If possible, take the time in the green room or before you hit the stage to warm up your voice and mouth by trying a few tongue twisters like “red leather, yellow leather.” Also, it’s best to avoid ice water, excess caffeine and overeating and tight clothing as these tend to restrict your voice and zap your energy.

Have the proper equipment and test it! This is another pre-event logistic you’ll want to make sure is on your radar. What audio/visual equipment do you need? What will the event be providing versus what do you need to bring yourself? If you have a PowerPoint presentation, you’ll want to make sure that it’s teed up and ready to go. Pro Tip: If your talk is reliant on a visual presentation, be sure to print a copy for yourself to have on standby in case technology goes awry.

Use visuals to give value, not as a crutch. Keep them simple; an audience shouldn’t have to ponder the meaning of an image for more than 10 seconds. Give them a little time to digest the slide. Also, don’t read the slide while you’re presenting: It communicates you don’t know your stuff. Don’t let visuals dominate you or the stage – keep them off to one side.

Break away from the podium. I always find presenting with a lavalier microphone more effective than a hand-held or stationary mic. Using a lav mic gives me the freedom to work the stage, step from behind the podium and have the use of my arms and hands to demonstrate my points. And as always be sure to smile as it breaks down barriers between you and the audience and shows you’re approachable and confident. Finally, to draw your audience in even more make eye contact. Don’t be creepy about it, just as you move throughout the stage create that eye contact with individuals in the room to build trust and keep their attention throughout the presentation. This is also a great practice to see what is resonating with your audience. Hint: if they’re nodding during your presentation, you’re giving them what they want, and they understand what your message is.

Record your presentation on video. Record the audience as well to study their reactions. Watch the video later and makes notes. What worked? What part of the presentation did the audience react positively too? Where did you begin to lose them? Take what you learned and apply it to your next talk.

The Power of Actionable Presentations

Most presentations you’ve seen and maybe even given are part informational and part persuasion, meaning they’re geared to have the audience take action on the information you’re communicating. Do you want them to text a keyword right then and there to claim a special offer? Do you want them to rush the back of the room to buy your latest book/program/thing? Fill out a worksheet while you’re delivering your presentation? It’s important to get clear on the following before you hit the stage.

1. What do I want to accomplish by the end of the presentation? What action do you want the audience taking?

2. How do I want the audience to be thinking or acting differently?

3. What action(s) do I want the audience to do after they’ve heard me? Today? Tomorrow? A week from now?

Answering these questions will orient your presentations — giving more structure, urgency, and purpose while offering up value to your audience.

Now, Back to Bob.

It’s the end of the year, and Bob must take the stage again to give his annual wrap-up speech.

The employee audience is still buzzing, but the buzz is not good: They’re expecting the same robotic and scripted speech they heard in the middle of the year.

Suddenly, Bob strides confidently from behind the curtain – wearing the smile of the Cheshire cat. This time he ignores the lectern and walks instead to center stage – animated and energetic. His accompanying graphic shows an upward curve on closed sales. Yes, he’s prepared – but he sounds spontaneous and fresh, a far cry from the RoboBob that took the stage earlier this year.

And the audience responds: Employees are nodding along, smiling, making eye contact with Bob and not their mobile phones as he reiterates the company’s new-found success.

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