Public Speaking – Being Prepared
Preparation serves several important purposes:
- It boosts your self-confidence.
- It reduces the chances of something going wrong.
- It creates an impression of you as a competent, diligent person.
- It makes it easier for you to give a polished, professional presentation.
The saying goes that those “who fail to prepare, prepare to fail”. Only by preparing properly will you eliminate the obvious potential errors that can turn what would be an excellent speech into a mess.
By taking the time to prepare, you can look ahead to the presentation and get an impression for how it should and will go. You can also take into consideration what difficulties may arise and create a strategy for dealing with each of them.
Some people can walk into a room and hold the attention of their audience by speaking “off the cuff” for half an hour or more. These people are naturally gifted and quite rare. Usually, they make a living as stand-up comedians, as comedy is one of very few fields where the act of preparing a routine is not restricted by the necessity for getting every fact right and every detail nailed down.
This does not mean that delivering a presentation cannot be an enjoyable process. In fact, the right amount and the right kind of preparation can ensure that the presentation is enjoyable, informative and useful both for you and for your audience.
Checking Out the Venue
Here are some things to look for when checking out the venue for a presentation:
Sometimes a lot of preparation goes into a presentation; considering the way the speaker moves, sounds and sees the audience, as well as the visual aids the speaker will use during the presentation.
A great deal of preparation should ensure that things go smoothly, but the level of presentation needs to be matched by the quality of preparation. Think for a moment how you would react if you had written a 30-minute presentation which called for frequent reference to a visual slideshow and when you arrived at the venue you found that they did not have a projector.
If you can have access to the venue before you deliver the presentation, you should carry out a study of the room and get all the information you need. If you can have access for long enough to do a “dry run”, so much the better. This will allow you to foresee any problems and either amend your speech or make alternative arrangements.
It is essential that you take nothing for granted when seeking to deliver a presentation, because it will be you who is in the unenviable position of explaining and dealing with any problems that happen during the live presentation.
If you cannot get access to the venue prior to your presentation, then you should at least be able to get a floor plan of the venue and a checklist of items you will have available to you. Also, you will have the advantage of knowing whether the venue will support any equipment you bring with you.
If you have written into your presentation a very clever ten-minute scenario that requires you to walk among the audience, you will need to know that the layout of the room allows this. If you have included a short film in your presentation, it will be entirely useless if most people cannot see the film because a pillar is in their way.
Before you deliver your presentation, you should look around the room and ensure that nothing there will distract people from what you are saying and visualise how you will deliver your speech in this room.
If you are going to use handouts, be sure you have enough. Handouts serve several purposes:
- Listeners like to take notes. Listeners like to have something to take away from your presentation as a reminder of what you said. Many listeners will take notes on any scrap of paper that is handy. By providing your listeners with handouts, you can reduce the time they spend taking notes because they will already have the main information you are presenting.
- The less time they spend taking notes, the more time they can spend focusing on you.
- Handouts help reinforce your main points. People listen selectively. As hard as you try to emphasise a point, some listeners will remember some other point you made that was probably less important. Handouts will help you drive home your main message.
- Handouts make listeners happy. People like to take away something tangible from a presentation, something more than their recollection of what you said. Giving people handouts makes them feel as if they “own” the information they have just heard.
When you write your speech, it is beneficial to condense what you are saying into its key points. This is beneficial for the sake of having visual prompts for what you are going to say but can serve a dual purpose, as you can create an excellent handout.
As wonderful as your speech may be, remember that it will be experienced slightly differently by however many people hear it. Each person may take something slightly different away from the room, so if you have concrete points that you would insist on them remembering, ensure that these are available on the handout.
By giving everyone a handout, you also ensure that they feel as though they have participated in the presentation. Rather than simply demanding that they sit there, listen and remember everything you have said, you give them what is in effect a souvenir of the occasion (in fact, souvenir is by origin a French word for “to remember”).
This will be something they can refer to after the event, particularly if they annotate the handout themselves with their own thoughts. Additionally, they can sit and listen to the presentation as you deliver it, without having to constantly write or refer to detailed notes during the speech.
A 24-Hour Checklist
___ Do you know what you’re going to say in the first two minutes?
___ Do you know how you’re going to introduce your topic?
___ Have you prepared clear statements of your main points?
___ Do you know how you’re going to close your presentation?
___ Have you prepared answers for the questions that are likely to come up?
Slides and handouts:
___ Have you proofread your slides?
___ Do you need to add any slides?
___ Should you delete any slides?
___ Do you have enough handouts for everyone?
___ Do you know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there?
___ Have you gathered all the equipment and other materials you need?
___ Have you called a contact person to make sure the room will be ready?
Remember : “Practise makes perfect!”