Many of us, during our working lives, will be expected to deliver a presentation. In a previous article, I looked at ways in which nervousness can be overcome when speaking in public. This article looks at why planning and effective preparation is essential for a good presentation.
Preparation is needed to ensure that the message is clear and appropriate to the context. To do this, we must consider the following:
Why is the presentation taking place?
If an event organiser or your boss has asked you to make a presentation, they probably have a specific reason for this. It may be to persuade, to inform or to educate. There may be certain objectives that you, the organiser or the audience expect.
You will often be given a brief (formally or informally), which may also outline the subject of the presentation or at least a subject area/theme.
Understanding the audience is crucial as the content of the presentation needs to be appropriate to their needs. For example, a business manager going into a school to speak to young people about the world of work, will not adopt the same approach as she would speaking to prospective clients.
Therefore, the following factors need to be considered:
- The size of the group – are you addressing a crowded auditorium or just a handful of people in a small room?
- The demographic make-up of the audience
- The reason why the participants are there – i.e. are they delegates at a conference? Have they chosen to attend, or have they been ‘forced’ to attend? Are they attending as part of a work engagement or are they attending in their own time?
- The existing knowledge of the audience on the subject. Are you dealing with experts, students, practitioners, enthusiastic amateurs or novices?
- The formality of the event. Do certain conventions need to be followed? Is humour appropriate?
The time of day that the presentation takes place should also be considered. It is unlikely you will be able to choose when you speak but there are certain factors to be aware of. For example, people’s attention may drop in the late morning as lunchtime approaches. Similarly, post-lunch sleepiness may mean that audiences may not be fully engaged in the early afternoon and, as the end of the working day approaches, people’s attention may be on going home.
It is very important to know how long you are expected to talk for. The organiser should be able to advise you on this (also find out if this time includes questions or if there will be a separate question and answer session). The length of the slot will influence choices in respect of the presentation’s content. For example, in longer presentations there is scope to go into greater detail.
Make sure your message and any slides or visual aids consider each of these things. Remember to take the time to rehearse and know your content inside out.
When delivering a successful presentation, preparation is key. Don’t fall into the trap of complacency as a lack of sufficient planning is often obvious to your audience. If you look unprepared, it will not reflect well on yourself or your message. If you haven’t prepared properly – and it shows – why should your audience take you seriously?
Take the time to consider the areas above, however, and you will have made a positive start towards delivering a strong presentation.