You’ve created your presentation, now you need to practise. Or as the great Yogi Berra put it:
In theory there is no difference between theory and practise. In practise, there is.
Almost certainly in the early days of your presenting you will need to practise a considerable amount. There are two main reasons for this; firstly you will be presenting your own unique content for the first time in an open forum like a conference, which means you will need to be absolutely sure of what it is you are going to say to ensure you don’t come across as someone who is less knowledgeable than you are. Secondly, you will almost always be nervous. How quickly you overcome your nerves will vary greatly from person to person and a variety of other factors. For me it took just over two years before my nerves stopped kicking in to the point where they were visible.
The key to coming across confidently is to know what you are going to say right from your first sentence, all the way through to your last sentence. You also need to ensure that you don’t learn every single word of the talk parrot fashion. Unless you have a gift for remembering dialogue (in which case you will sound like you are simply reading your verbiage), you will have to employ a few tricks to get around this…
Firstly, practise your very first sentence, and make it snappy and to the point, and impactful at the same time if you can. Don’t drone on about how happy you are to be here, what your name is, thank you all for coming, I hope you like my talk, how you can’t believe you are stood in front of such a talented crowd at this amazing conference etc.. I recall practising in front of a good friend, and before I had got halfway through my introductory sentence he bellowed:
His point was that people weren’t there to hear your platitudes, they are here to get their money’s worth and listen to what you have got to say, so just get on with it. Additionally, if people want to know more about you personally they will either read your bio in the conference agenda, or look you up after the talk. Do not spend five minutes establishing your credentials as not only can it come across as egotistical (except in very rare circumstances) but erodes your impact as a confident and knowledgeable speaker.
Slide on the slides
The second trick is to use your slides as a prompt for a train of thought rather than using them as an aid to specific sentences you want to remember. In the first blog on this topic I mentioned using imagery as much as possible; avoiding the use of bullet points or long sentences as much as possible means you won’t be tempted to rely on the text for what you are going to say. Try to sound conversational, and while practising do consider filming yourself or at the very least an audio recording. Running through it a few times will help embed a few key phrases in your head you can move between, and also give your imagination a chance expand further on your thoughts. Having a few Tweetable length phrases ready to roll off your tongue is a useful way of making an impact with few words, as well as encouraging people to potentially tweet your quotes during the talk (an increase your audience). Don’t forget your “story” or the beginning, middle, end structure either.
This point is also an opportunity to practise varying the tone and pitch of your voice, the use of your hands and even how you want to move around. Practise slowing down your talking , and possible even lowering your volume (more easily achieved if you are going to be using a microphone), when you want to emphasis something of critical importance. You can also speed up and become more animated on sections that you find exciting, fun or revealing. A little bit of humour thrown in as well helps, but be careful here, especially with an international audience. Test it on colleagues and peers first.
So you have made it through the deck and you are on your last slide; before you know it you have finished your presentation. how do you finish? “And, um, that’s it really…” is not the way to go. See the first point and memorise a closing statement, something straightforward, and again, snappy. “With that, I will close and thank you all for your time and attention. I will now take questions” is a good place to start. Don’t be afraid to make changes to the deck and the story as you go through either; they will evolve as you become more proficient, and the deck should not limit your message; the message dictates the deck.
How often should you run through your deck? In my early days I would practise at least five times, recording it a few times, and often in front of a critical friend or two. This is a very real time commitment, so be aware and plan it into the creation of your presentation to meet your deadline. As you get more comfortable, you will be rehearsing the presentation as you create the deck, and after a few reviews will know what you are going to say (roughly) with each slide and each transition.
Above all, be patient with the process; like anything it takes thousands of hours to be proficient at something depending upon your natural ability, the circumstances and the topic in hand. If you are not having fun, ascertain what part of the process are you not enjoying? Very often, I talk to people who hate the entire process, including the presenting, until immediately after when they get such a rush they want to do it again. if that is the case, the painful parts do get easier. Also, make sure you find someone who will honestly critique your presentation either in person or after watching a recording. Take their viewpoint very seriously, and if they are a serious speaker then all the better.
So, if you are wondering how you can get to Carnegie Hall, as the violinist turned comedian Jack Benny once answered:
Practise Practise Practise!
Next time, The Art of the Presentation (part 3 of 3) – The Delivery.
Note: Look out for a new YouTube series from me coming soon, The Lost CISO!