Fail To Prepare, Expect Disaster.

There are many ways to deliver a good speech. And there is more than one way to prepare a dazzling presentation. But it’s unusual to hear a good speech or presentation that did not involve preparation in one form or another. Here are some common scenarios:

  • You’ve studied your topic and know your stuff. Your research spans a period of time. Very little further research is necessary. You can talk about it for a week if needs be.
  • You’re the subject expert. You know which bits you’re going to share. You just need to organize those bits.
  • You’re not the subject expert, but you’ve researched your material thoroughly and have put together a sound presentation. You plan to rehearse.
  • You know something about the topic so you’re going to “wing it” on the day.

It’s not for me to judge the circumstances under which you present. But it would be useful to heed this important warning: If you don’t prepare what you are going to say, and create a logical structure, expect disaster. This is good for no-one, except, in the case of a business presentation, your competitors!

It’s also necessary to point out that all presentations are not the same. Presentations broadly have one of four kinds of formats:

  • The keynote speech. Your objective is to deliver a key message with supporting arguments in a short time – usually an hour or less, in order to entertain or inspire people or both. A keynote comprises high content information around a central topic. You may use stories, anecdotes and quotes. Visuals like props or slides can be used, but should be purposeful and well thought out. Throughout the speech keynoters may make a point, illustrate it with a story or anecdote, repeat the point and move on. They start strong, keep interest high, and end with a powerful closing statement. Good keynoters seldom waffle, that’s why they are highly paid.
  • The business presentation. Here your objective is to persuade people to buy or buy in to your product, service or idea. Successful presentations often follow a logical and effective formula – an introduction where you set up your topic; the body where you provide a compelling argument supported by benefits of your solution; and a conclusion where you offer your presentation summary and request action.
  • The product demonstration. By practically showing the features and benefits of your product, you are able to engage people’s senses and get them involved. A product demonstration can be effective to keep existing customers or win new ones.
  • Lectures, seminars or training programmes where delegates may settle in for a few hours or days and expect detailed information – often on a central topic. This format is more forgiving, but often requires facilitation skills. The longer a session, the more it becomes necessary to engage audience participation to maintain interest.

Using any of these formats you may invite questions from your audience at some stage. Whichever format you are using, preparation is vital. The newer the presentation is for you, the more important it is to prepare adequately. Know how you will start and how you will end, what goes in where, at what stage questions will be invited, and how much time you have. Presenters may feel that once they are familiar with their presentation, they need no longer prepare. This is a mistake, because every audience is different. By customizing each presentation according to your expected audience you automatically increase your chances of success.

There is simply no substitution for adequate preparation. You will feel it and your audience will know it. Once your flow and structure is in place, go over your presentation a few times. A few practice runs will give you the confidence to get up on the day and achieve your objective.

Since you’d like to be taken seriously (or get a few laughs if you’re a comedian!), it’s usually worth the trouble knowing that you’re going to get it right in advance – both for you and for your audience!

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