presentations without preparation or practice: walking a tightrope without a net

Have you ever had the dream where you’re taking a college exam and you haven’t been to the class?  Or, for those of us who’ve waited tables, the restaurant has a new computer system, they’ve renumbered the tables and you aren’t familiar with either (and you have a full section…)?  You know the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, the anxiety, the screaming in your brain, “Get me outa’ here!!!”  And then, mercifully, you wake up.  Well, giving a presentation to REAL LIVE PEOPLE without preparing or practicing is exactly like the bad dream – without the opportunity to get outa’ there.

I know I know, you’re so swamped at work you don’t have time to create your presentation.  It’s easier to just copy and paste a bunch of slides from other people’s presentations.  Why reinvent the wheel?  Besides, clicking through the slides at your desk, getting familiar with their order is plenty of preparation, right?  Wrong wrong and wrong.  And if this has been your MO, you know I’m right.

Let’s walk ourselves through this, shall we?  You are introduced, you stand up to speak.  You thank the host or hostess for having you.  You begin the first slide, best case, an overview of what you’ll be talking about, worst case, an overview of you or your company.  Dull, but at least you feel in control.  Now you get into the meat of it.  You’ve not practiced any of this OUT LOUD so you’re now hearing yourself give the presentation for the very first time IN FRONT OF REAL LIVE PEOPLE.  You realize, in real time as you’re talking IN FRONT OF REAL LIVE PEOPLE that your third slide (and heaven help you, the 8 bullet points) has nothing to do with the slide before it, the off the cuff introduction you gave, or where you really want to go.  Your head is spinning. You feel faint.  You’re sweating.  Profusely.  You look out at the audience and they have confused looks on their faces.  How could they not?  You don’t  know where you’re headed; how could they possibly know?  You eyes look longingly at the EXIT sign; you bravely, dejectedly soldier on.

Sound familiar?  Feeling a little sick as you read this even?  Then commit right now that you will never again put yourself (or your audience!) though this needless agony. Here’s how.

  1. Start with the end in mind.  What’s the POINT of your presentation?  What’s your goal?  Don’t ever lose sight of that.  Measure everything in your presentation against it.
  2. Make an outline and stick to it.  ONLY use slides that MOVE YOUR POINT FORWARD.
  3. PRACTICE OUT LOUD.  In your head does not count.
  4. Remove what doesn’t work (you’ll know once you practice; it becomes glaringly obvious.) add what’s needed.

Raise your right hand and repeat after me, “I will no longer undermine my own success and emotional and mental well-being by neglecting to prepare and practice my presentation.”  Good.  I feel better, do you?  You will, and equally important, you’ll be heard.

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