“I don’t present very often, so how do I prepare for a presentation?” That is, by far, one of the most common questions that we get as presentation skills coaches. In fact, most public speaking fear comes from situations where presenters just don’t speak very often. They have a hard time building up momentum. For instance, if you only drive a car once every couple of years, you will likely be nervous every time you slip behind the wheel. However, if you drive every day, the process becomes second nature.
The same is true when you deliver presentations. If you don’t speak very often, your nervousness will be higher. In these situations, the way that you prepare for a presentation will determine if you are more nervous or less nervous when you speak. Below, I’m going to give you five time-tested ways to prepare for a presentation that will help you speed up the process. This process will also help you reduce the nervousness a little as well.
5 Ironclad Ways to Prepare for a Presentation, Cut Prep Time, and Reduce Nervousness.
- Figure Out What You Want to Say First. Then, Create Your Visual Aids Last
- Spend Time Making Your Title Catchy So You Capture Audience Attention Quickly.
- Create a Presentation Outline with Five or Fewer Key Points to Cover.
- Clarify Each Point in Your Presentation Outline by Offering Examples or Stories.
- Create Visual Aids that Help You Clarify Each Bullet Point When You Prepare a Presentation Outline.
One of the biggest mistakes that people make when they create a presentation is that they start with the visual aids. I’ve fallen into this trap myself on occasion. A couple of years ago, my team thought that it would be a good idea to start doing weekly webinars for our clients. Keep in mind that I speak to groups at least two or three times every week. So, I figured that designing a webinar would be pretty easy.
I spent the better part of two days putting together the slideshow. It wasn’t until I did a practice run-through with a few of my team members that it hit me. I was doing the opposite of what I do when I design presentations. I started with the slideshow. So, my delivery was choppy and well… somewhat boring.
I went back to the drawing board and used the tips below to recreate my presentation first. Then, after I had a great speech design, I went back and created visual aids for the webinar. The whole process took less than a couple of hours the second way. When I practiced this time, my delivery was more fluid and the speech was easier to remember.
So, start with organizing your speech. Then, focus on your visual aids as the last step.
When you do create your visual aids, the first thing your audience will see is the title. Each audience member will make a snap decision as to whether the speech is going to be valuable for them or not. So, if you spend a little time making the title catchy, more of the audience will have a positive impression of you before you even begin to speak.
There are two main steps in creating a good presentation title. First, start with a title that is a complete sentence. By doing this, your audience will have a better idea of exactly what you will be covering in the presentation. The second step is to think of the benefit to the audience of listening to you present. Then add that benefit to the end of the title.
Here is an example from one of my clients last week. He was working on a contract to have the LA Rams use his hotel when they travel on away games.
Titles for sales presentations like this usually say something like, “Our Hotel and the LA Rams.” Or maybe, “Why the LA Rams Should Choose Our Hotel.”
He did something different, though. His title was…
Our Hotel Will Give Your Player, Coaches, and Their Families a Luxury Experience with Streamlined team Transfers in a Distraction-Free and Safe Location.
We have a recent post that helps you create great presentation titles: How to Make Catchy Presentation Titles. Click the link to access it.
Once you have a good title, you will find it much easier to organize a few key items to cover in the presentation. The more narrow title gets you focused. A good technique to use is to pretend you are one of the audience members. Then, ask yourself, “If I knew nothing about this topic, what one thing would be most important to understand about it?” Whatever the answer to that question is likely going to be one of your main points.
Do the same thing again to discover another main point. Once you get to three, four, or five points, stop. If you are covering points based on their importance to the audience member, then by the time you get to six, the relative importance will be much lower than the first items that you listed.
Think about your bullet points and content like a sweet dessert. The first few bites are fantastic. However, the more you eat — if you over-indulge — you will eventually start to feel sick. Your audience is the same way. Instead of stuffing your presentation with a bunch of poorly covered points, just make a few and make them exceptional.
We set up a free step-by-step process to help you create good bullet points in our Online Speech Creator. Click the link to access it. It is a fast, easy way to organize your thoughts.
Most people think that you have to fill your presentation with lots of data to make the presentation have value. I’m not saying that this totally isn’t true. However, a great example is worth a thousand points of data. The example is also easier for the audience to understand and easier for the presenter to remember as well.
For instance, if you are giving a report about how revenue dropped suddenly at the start of the Covid pandemic, you have a couple of choices. You can try to remember all the numbers involved (or worse, read the series of numbers.) Or, a better way is to create a data table hand-out and give a couple of examples.
“If you recall, in late February of 2020, the Covid scare caused many of our potential contracts to be delayed. Then, by mid-March over 90% of the contracts that our sales team closed by not yet delivered canceled within a couple of weeks. That all changed in April, though, when…
If you give the details in a narrative format, the data is more interesting. It’s also easier for you and the audience.
The easiest way to come up with a story for a bullet point is to ask yourself, “What is a good example I could use to explain this?” Come up with one or two for each of your bullet points to prepare for your presentation.
For additional details about how to come up with and tell great stories, see Great Storytelling in 5 Easy Steps. Click the link to access it.
Now that you have prepared a great, easy-to-deliver presentation, let’s organize some visual aids. The easiest is the slideshow. If you have a really good title and just a few well-written bullet points, you could just create a single slide. This is simple, and your audience will also appreciate your brevity. Your major advantage when you use this technique is that your audience will clearly understand what is important about your presentation. (Only the most important stuff is on the visual.)
The creation of the slideshow now takes just minutes. Before, it took days.
If you want to make your slides more dynamic when you prepare a presentation, image creators like Canva and Adobe Spark are helpful. Personally, when I do virtual sessions, I typically make a separate slide for each bullet. Then I use professional-looking images to help me capture and hold the attention of the virtual audience.
By the way as an example, I used Canva to create all the images here.
Now that You Have Prepared a Great Speech, Here Is How to Prepare for Your Delivery.
To deliver your speech, start with an overview of what you will be covering. If you have created a slide with your title and key bullet points, you can basically quickly read them. “My topic is… and the three (four, five) things that I will be covering are…”
This should take just a few seconds and give the audience a good idea of what you will cover. Next, go back to each point, one at a time, reread the point and give your story or example to clarify. After the last point and evidence, quickly recap the main points one final time.
The process is really easy, and you will sound like the expert.
Another good thing you can do to prepare for the presentation is to practice once or twice with a person. Practicing alone is bad. When you practice by yourself, you aren’t getting visual feedback to let you know if you are doing well. However, if you practice with a friend or coworker, when you say something the person understands, he/she will nod slightly. When you see this, you know that you are communicating well. If you see a confused look, you will be able to adjust your delivery and clarify the point.
Without that feedback, you may just get really good at delivering the presentation, but you may leave the audience confused. With that being said, be careful not to over-practice. Spontaneity will make your presentation interesting.