Presentations: The Vital Missing Ingredient

This article is about why many of us still get presentations wrong, why the missing ingredient is usually….missing, what the missing ingredient is and exactly what to do about it.

Here’s a typical presentation scenario: New product, roadshow looming – you’re doing the presentation. You’ve got started on the slide show, working on it when you’ve got a gap – and evenings. All seems to be going well. Five days to go – a mini crisis at the office (no problem, still plenty of time to prepare for Friday’s presentation). A big proposal hits your desk Tuesday afternoon – and they want it by Thursday 16h00. Are you getting the picture yet? Proposal goes in just in time – you’ve still got the whole evening to prepare the presentation, which you then proceed to do. Midnight, 1am….just about finished,…1.20 am done. Time to get some rest. Restless night, not much sleep. Up at 5.30 am – plenty of time still. Arrive at venue. Everything sorted except the data projector, eventually find it and get it to work. Suddenly the realisation hits you. Great Powerpoint slide show, but there’s something terribly wrong and you’re starting to panic. What can it be?

You haven’t managed to set aside the time to practise. But why should you need to? You know all this stuff. You’re sure to get through it okay. You’re not expecting a hostile audience. Then why are you feeling so short of breath?

Here’s why. You don’t know if it’s going to be too long or too short. You don’t know if you’ll remember what your cue card triggers were supposed to trigger (because you haven’t tested it). What if you’ve left out something important, what if you go blank, if they fry you alive at question time, if they get bored…oh my hat – what have I let myself in for..??? So you read your slideshow like 95% of all other presenters on earth…what did you forget?

You haven’t practised. Let me write that again. YOU HAVEN’T PRACTISED!

Here’s what would have happened if you had practised: The first run is almost always a disaster. You find out what works, what doesn’t work, what flows well, what’s funny, what’s not, where you’re waffling and so on. You stop, go back to the drawing board, knock out a few slides, add a phrase or 2 in, try again. Practice #2. Voila! Seemingly miraculously, everything seems to go like clockwork. The thing works! You know what? If you’ve got time, do a third run, just for confidence. If not, get a good night’s sleep and dazzle them in the morning.

Here’s how the average person can expect to feel depending on the amount of practise they’ve had prior to going live:

  • No practise – No sleep the night before, presenter extremely nervous, likely outcome – disaster.
  • One practise – Very little sleep, presenter anxious because the practise went badly, no confidence – panic. Likely outcome – disaster
  • Two practise runs – Reasonable night’s sleep, fairly confident, likely outcome – success
  • Three practise runs – Good night’s sleep, confident, likely outcome – success
  • Four or more – No harm – just don’t try to pull it off parrot fashion – your audience will be bored out of their minds and you’ll place yourself under added pressure.

You are undoubtedly the expert on the topic you’re expected to present on. The audience is most likely to assume that anyway. The issue is not the content – you could probaby talk for days on the subject. The issue is selecting the information that your audience needs to know to assist them to make the decision you are recommending, structure this information properly and deliver it convincingly. That’s why you really do need to practise.

And that’s why practise is the missing ingredient, because we seldom manage to make the time to rehearse. And if we do, it’s usually only once. No wonder we walk into presentations as if we’re walking the plank!

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