Late night Power Point - Why preparation matters

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Its Tuesday evening, the presentation is Wednesday morning.

The bright screen glares into your tired eyes.

You think you’ve got all the information that you need, the sales figures, projections of engagement, investment calculations… all checked twice and put onto slides with graphs where necessary.

But you have 50 slides none of which look quite right, the animations don’t work yet and you’re not entirely sure what you’re going to say…

You glance at your watch… the working day ended 3 hours ago, you really should be back at home with a glass of wine.

You look back at slide 36 which for some reason has rearranged itself with all the images on top of each other (blody PowerPoint)…

You sigh and tell yourself just another half hour…

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Many of you may recognise this situation… or something very like it. That rush to pull a presentation together, the nervous fluttering in your stomach as you realise it's not going to be quite what you wanted, the last minute conversation with the pitch teams which changes the slides with 20 minutes to go…

This is a story I hear over and over again, often accompanied by a bold (slightly defensive) claim that its fine, you’ve always been good at winging it, or that you don’t like being “over prepared”.

There is no such thing as “over prepared”.

When it comes to presentation great preparation is what sets you up for success. It can be the difference between a team that looks slick and together and one that seems fractured. A speaker who will be remembered, and one who is forgotten as soon as the audience leave. Fantastic preparation will lower your stress levels, make you feel more confident, and crucially, show through in the final presentation

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 Preparation is the backbone of any talk and we let ourselves, and our audiences down when we don’t put the time in. Everyone needs to find their own process and there are lots of tools out there that can help.

I like to break it down into three main steps.

Step 1 – Analysis

  • Here you ask yourself questions. The answers will help you focus and give you a framework to build the presentation round. Good questions include;

  • What’s my message? – What one thing do I want them to take away

  • Who are my audience and what do they care about? – What are their worries, concerns, passions and interests

  • What’s the context of my talk? – How many people am I talking to? How formal is it? What is the set up?

Step 2 – Content

  • Pull the key themes and ideas together. Do they support and enhance the answers you found? If not, you probably don’t need to include it.

  • How is your talk structured? Does have a beginning, middle and end? Is there a compelling reason for the audience to stay engaged all the way through?

  • Format – is it all talk or are there interactive elements? When do you use those? Do your audience need visual aids to help them follow along?

  • Rough out a script/plan. Create a slide deck. Gather the materials you need.

Step 3 - Rehearsal

  • Often the words we write sound terrible when you come to say them, if you don’t practice your talk out loud beforehand, you find this out while a CEO glares at you across a table.

  • Pitch teams often consist of more than one speaker- there is the opportunity here to look like a cohesive team, one that works well together and produces excellent results. If you don’t practice together, you risk looking like the opposite. Would you rather work with a team or four individuals?

  • Really knowing what you are going to say is one of the best ways to help with nerves. This is not to say you won’t get nervous (everyone does) but rehearsal cements the talk in your mind meaning that the nerves have less chance of throwing you off. Being comfortable with your content also means you can take questions and go off script with the knowledge that you can come back to exactly where you left off.

Great preparation takes time and I know that there isn’t always time. But if it is important enough, if the stakes are high, when you need to do everything you can to stack the cards in your favour. These are the times preparation will pay off.