by Steve Adubato, PhD

Most communication and public speaking coaches will tell you that the best way to deliver a great presentation is to be “prepared.” But being prepared means different things to different people. For some, it means gathering tons of information that you prepare to dump on other people. To others, it means going over and over your PowerPoint slides and preparing them in order.

However, being really prepared involves some actions and techniques that are too often ignored. Consider the following:

  • Never go into a presentation unless you are crystal clear on what your main message is—Not just intellectually knowing your message, but believing in it. You have to OWN the message and say it in your own words. Don’t confuse your topic with your message. My topic may be communication, but my message has to be a compelling statement; “Being a great communicator is a skill that will make or break any professional. I’m here to tell you why…”
  • Practice in front of someone else. Even if you are going to be speaking to an audience of 20, 50 or 100, speaking in front of a concerned and candid friend, colleague or family member has great value. Imagine that there are other people behind this single audience member. Set up some chairs around the room that represent people and talk to those people.
  • After you’ve completed either a section or your entire presentation, get feedback. Ask the person specifically what they liked or didn’t like and follow-up with open-ended questions; “What didn’t you like about my opening story?”
  • Don’t rehearse by speaking into a tape recorder. Most people who hear themselves on tape become obsessed with the sound of their voice. The problem is if you are only hearing yourself present, it distorts your perception big time. You need to see it and hear it at the same time.
  • If you want to tape, do so on video. Make believe that the lens of the camera represents an individual audience member. Again, put chairs around the camera. Don’t talk directly to the camera for the entire presentation, because that is not what you are going to do when you have to do it for real. Your objective is to simulate as much as possible the actual conditions under which you will be speaking.
  • Practice body movement. If you are going to be speaking from a podium, use a music stand on which you put your bulleted outline of your presentation. Then practice glancing down and speaking as you move; “I’d like to talk about the importance of listening…” All you will have on your bulleted outline is the word LISTENING in bold type. You need to become familiar with seeing the word and having it trigger for you exactly what you want to say; “Listening is really hard work, but the biggest benefit to becoming a great listener is…” If you don’t walk and talk when you are rehearsing your presentation, you are not going to do it when it counts.
  • Just as in sports, very often the way you practice is the way you play--Rehearse timing. In a recent communication workshop, each participant had three minutes to present. When one of the participants was going into her fifth minute, the seminar leader stopped her. When he informed her that she was way past her time limit, she said, “I am only halfway through.” That’s a problem. If it is a three-minute presentation, rehearse it over and over again until you can do it in three minutes or less.

Simply put, rehearsing your presentation is the biggest part of preparation, yet it is a piece that is too often ignored.