It was Benjamin Franklin who famously said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
That sentiment rings true in so many aspects of life and is particularly relevant in regard to public speaking. Whether you’re pitching a potential client or speaking to your internal team, the key to a successful presentation lies in the preparation. But exactly how should you prepare? These tips can help you make the most out of your next opportunity:
Frame your message. Identify your audience—and then speak to their needs, wants or expectations. Put yourself in their shoes: What do they want to take away from your presentation? And then outline your presentation accordingly: Demonstrate how you can help solve a problem or explain how your solution saves them money or makes their lives easier or creates new opportunities for growth.
One mistake I often see people make is that they spend too much time talking about themselves, or their company history, or their certifications, blah, blah, blah. Remember: your presentation is not about you—it’s all about your audience.
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. When it comes to public speaking, practice really does make perfect. I find that as my preparation time increases, my stress and anxiety decreases. The more familiar you are with your content, the more confidence you’ll have in your delivery. Experts recommend rehearsing in front of a mirror so you can see yourself and note your body language (recording yourself works well, too).
It’s also beneficial to re-create your speaking environment…will you be behind a podium? At the head of a conference table? Speaking on a Zoom call? If you can stage your practice sessions to mimic the actual presentation setting, you’ll feel more relaxed and comfortable with your surroundings when it’s time for the real thing.
A recent HubSpot article notes another timely benefit of rehearsals: “As more presentations and events become fully virtual, the likelihood of technical difficulties also grows. Rehearsing your content can help you weather any interruptions or last-minute changes.”
Ask for feedback. Practice your presentation in front of colleagues or friends and ask for their honest opinions. And, if it’s possible to ask your client or attendees for feedback immediately following your presentation, do it. Capturing their feedback while the content is still fresh in their minds is beneficial—it’ll give you the chance to fill in any blanks and also to adjust your content/delivery for future presentations.
Engage/involve your audience. Presentations shouldn’t be one-way conversations that simply outline data or selling points. Storytelling is a great way to create a narrative that resonates with your audience (A 2018 Prezi study showed that 90% of people believe a strong narrative makes for a more engaging, interesting presentation). And instead of merely dishing out facts, try using humor, or initiating audience participation for a more memorable presentation.
No matter what your presentation is about, if you’re able to inspire your audience to think differently by carefully framing your message and delivering it in an engaging and memorable manner, then you’ve done it right.
Bob De Garmo