I’ve been giving a lot of presentations recently. Some of these are pitches at work; others are talks at various conferences for a variety of audiences. After nearly a decade of talking to groups of people, I thought I’d revisit some of my favorite sources of inspiration to prepare for a recent round of presentations.
First stop was TED. TED is known for Ted Talks, of course. These inspiring, instructive, illuminating presentations set the bar for public speaking long ago and continue to be a major source of inspiration. What I take from these is the appearance of ease with which these presenters conduct themselves. Watching these talks is the antidote to so many of the presentations we’ve all seen: presenters getting lost in their notes, not making eye contact with their audience, and mumbling their way through a plodding slideshow of poorly-prepared content.
But, while crafting my two latest talks, I was asked by a colleague what MY process was. I’ve given that some thought and have decided to cover the answers to that question in a multi-part post; the first of which covers the initial stages.
Chances are, if you’ve been asked to talk, it means you have demonstrated a high level of understanding or mastery of a certain subject, a willingness to share your knowledge, and (hopefully) an engaging way of speaking. Now, you just need to prepare:
Gather logistical information. It’s tempting to want to jump right in and start preparing content. However, I like to get answers to some practical questions first. Getting those out of the way up front leaves my brain free to think more clearly about the talk. Avoiding these questions until the end can create unnecessary stress, right when you need your resources to prepare and rehearse. Answering these questions also gives you a sense of how prepared the client is (and a heads up to get cracking if they can’t answer your questions). Some points to consider:
What day and time is the talk? Where are you speaking? How long are you expected to speak? How many guests are anticipated? Are you speaking before or after others? Will Q&A be expected afterwards? Is this part of a panel? Who is your contact on the day? Where do you park (and is there validation involved)? Do they have the proper technology to support the needs of the presentation? Is there a podium? Does it have an attached microphone? Or will you be expected to use a lavalier or hand-held mic? How early should you be there to make sure the technology works correctly? Is this a paid speaking engagement? Can you do your own marketing on social media for the event?
Gather content information. The answers to these questions should assist you in tailoring your content to the specific audience you’ve been asked to address.
Who is the audience? What do they want to know? What is their age-range? Is the audience required to attend or is their presence voluntary? Is there a theme or main idea to which you’re meant to speak? Most importantly, WHY are you speaking? Are you meant to share your story? Present research? Sell an idea? Impart new information? Inspire?
Research your subject. While many people are asked to speak because of their expertise with a particular subject, it’s often necessary to bolster your points with objective or updated research (new polls, recent statistics or developments, etc). I talk a lot about entertainment technology so staying current is important. By not relying on what you think you know, you open yourself up to new learning which will grace your presentation with fresh, relevant information.
In addition to the usual resources (books, published papers, etc), I find talking with knowledgeable colleagues to be valuable. I ask them about the subject and get their perspective on it. Often, their thoughts inform or clarify my own thinking.
In Part II, I’ll discuss preparing your words and visuals, and in Part III, we’ll cover creating your visual presentation and rehearsing. Finally, in part IV, I’ll cover presentation day.