You have to give a presentation and you HATE public speaking!
You’ve poured over your slide deck editing slides, rearranging slides, deleting slides, recovering slides, hiding slides, and adding slides. You’re confident that the information on each slide is easy to understand and your presentation flows in a logical order with meaningful transitions. After sending it to your team for content and context review, you can’t help but feel a sense of pride for your creation. As you applaud your superior PowerPoint skills, the room suddenly becomes dark and cold. A chill races up your spine as you are become aware that your work is only half done. Your perfectly crafted presentation will soon be at the mercy of your lackluster presentation skills. It is obvious that you are knowledgeable; you’re even comfortable with the “subject matter expert” title you been referred to on several occasions. However, there is something emotionally debilitating about the idea that your expertise will have to be pass from your mouth to your audience’s ears in order to be recognized and appreciated. There has to be a way to make your delivery match the level of your technical expertise.
Although I can’t promise you’ll be captivating audiences worldwide, I can offer 5 things you can do today that will provide noticeable improvements to your presentation skills.
Don’t just glance through.
Sitting at your desk, going through your slide deck and presenter notes is a great way to familiarize yourself with the content and the flow of the presentation. Reading the slides is a very effective way of connecting to the information you want to convey and providing yourself with visual cues that you can use during your presentation. You’ve read through the slides, however you have not rehearsed.
Rehearsal is more than a read through. Rehearsal requires you to be mobile. Although I’ve been a trainer for years, I make it a habit to secure a conference room or an empty office to rehearse my training session before I go live. My rehearsal is not just a memory exercise, I am also developing a cadence for my lecture and gauging the best use of my time. If my allotted time is one hour, then I want to maximize that hour and leave plenty of time for questions and answers. I want to respect my participants’ time by ending as close to the scheduled time limit as possible without going over. Although it may seem ideal to end a session early, it is extremely disrespectful. So many of us are juggling our schedules around to carve out time for out priorities and commitments. If I block an hour of my calendar for a meeting that lasts a half an hour, I don’t feel like thirty minutes was given back to me. No, I feel like I just wasted thirty minutes that could have been scheduled for some other project or meeting.
Rehearsing your presentation provides you the opportunity to decide which slides or concepts require more time for explanation or expounding. You can set an appropriate pace for your presentation that allows you to concentrate your time where you need it most.
Conducting a full walk through of your presentation will build your confidence and your intimate knowledge of the subject will be highlighted by your preparation.
As a writer, it would be disingenuous of me not to confess my awareness that the words remember and memorize could be synonyms if used in the right context. However, I do think the ability to retrieve a thought in our mind and memorizing sentences verbatim are very different concepts. I’ve conducted many train-the-trainer sessions and it doesn’t take a seasoned trainer to recognize when someone is speaking from a memorized script. Body language is usually the easiest way to determine if a speaker is relying on knowledge of the subject matter or memorization of the content. When speaking from memory, the speaker will look towards the ceiling and try to read the memorized words in their mind’s eye. The lack of eye contact makes the audience think that the speaker is searching for truth or worse, making up their presentation as they go along.
Memorizing a presentation is not only difficult, it makes the presentation sound scripted. As the speaker sticks to the script, the audience is robbed of the opportunity to learn from the speaker’s expertise gained by real-world experiences. Memorizing a presentation provides a false sense of readiness for the speaker. The conditions and environment are very different during memorization than they are during regurgitation. As mental snapshots are taken and the presentation is rehearsed verbatim from memory, there is no consideration for interruptions during the actual delivery. All it takes is one small distraction for your brain to execute a complete and total data dump.
Think of a favorite song you’ve committed to memory. You know every lyric of this song and when you hear it on the radio or when you play it on one of your devices, you are able to sing along without missing a word. You’ve memorized not just the lyrics but the changes in melody, tempo, and pitch. Now imagine you’re at a live concert of the artist who recorded your favorite song. All it would take is for the artist to change or skip a word, switch up the melody, or slow down the tempo, and that disruption would throw you off.
Instead of memorizing your presentation, familiarize yourself with key words and phrases that will allow you to speak from your memories of experience with the content. The flow will sound less robotic and forced. You won’t be thrown off by a cell phone ringing, a question, or someone entering or leaving the room. By rehearsing the presentation, you can commit key points to memory and recall them while you present. Your presentation will sound smooth and rehearsed, not memorized.