Last week, the light globe in the lamp on my wife’s side of the bed stopped working. Of course, this is a trivial job; no need to call an electrician. So, I went to the hardware store to buy a replacement globe, something I have done on many other occasions. On all these past occasions the outcome was as expected: I’d replaced the globe and the light worked fine. On this occasion however, I could not put the globe in the lamp. Because most of the lights in our house take the bayonet-type light globe, I assumed that the bedside lamp would too. Unfortunately it did not; this lamp requires screw-in type globes, which I should have checked before going out to buy a replacement.
I learned from this experience that no matter how trivial an exercise, you should always prepare.
This advice is also good if you have an upcoming presentation at an event or conference.
Most of us are not professional speakers. When we are asked to present a report to our work colleagues, deliver a best-man speech, or speak at a community event, we don’t immediately know how to prepare. So here are some tips on how to prepare for your presentation.
Prepare for the presentation
Preparation for a presentation is important. But it is more important to Understand that preparation is important. Why? Often many of us think that we can either prepare in our heads or do the presentation impromptu. We fall into the trap that just because we have done this presentation before, or many others like it, we think we are prepared. But this is not the case. Understanding, knowing that you have to, and setting aside some time to prepare will allow you to look deeply into the following points and be really prepared to deliver a great presentation.
Determine the Outcome
Many presenters focus on the presentation and forget the reason why they are presenting. A while ago I was asked to present an information session on accounting best practices to a group of project managers. My instinct always tells me to just throw everything I know onto Power Point™ slides. But because I am practised at this step, I asked myself, and then the person requesting the presentation, what is the expected outcome of my presentation? I found out that the manager asking for this information wanted his project managers to enter the right codes against financial transactions entered into the system. This changed the presentation significantly. The PM’s received the right information and were able to act on it. Had I not performed this step, I would have bored them with an hour of useless information but walked away thinking that I had achieved something.
Draft your presentation to achieve that outcome
Every single thing you say or do in your presentation should be targeted at achieving your set outcome. If it does not, leave it out. It will take time, and seem out of place and irrelevant. People are not there to hear how great you are; they are there to seek help in achieving their outcome.
Craft your presentation to your audience
Do you know who your audience is? Do you know how many there will be? Will your audience be already knowledgeable on your topic or will they be novices? Will they be front-line workers or executives? Will they expect a recommendation or a set of alternatives? You will need to craft your language, tone, pace and voice to suit the audience to whom you will be presenting.
Get to know the room
I hate getting to a presentation where it takes the presenter 10 minutes to learn how to use the Audio-Visual equipment to work. Or the presenter uses a microphone on a room of 10 people. Or doesn’t use one in a room of a hundred. There are many other pitfalls like these, so ask before you get there, or better sill, visit the location before your presentation and check the stage, lectern, lights and AV equipment.
Get there early
This should go without saying, but doesn’t. Get there early. Set up your presentation. Meet and greet the people at the door. (This has the added benefit of your audience having established a connection with you even before you speak). Be ready to start on time. Nothing worse than a presenter still setting up the presentation 10 minutes after it was supposed to start.
One last tip: Try your presentation without Power Point. If you can, then you should. Otherwise it is not the slides helping you to deliver your message, it is you helping your slides.
These are just the basic tips on preparation; there are far more you can try after you have mastered these. Professional speakers and presenters all have their own routines on how to prepare. The sooner you find your own routine, the sooner your presentations will look and sound professional.
Two months ago, Mina my partner in life and in business, organised a public speaking workshop for about 30 people. Three speakers were invited, each would speak for about twenty minutes about a topic related to public speaking. On the morning of the workshop one of the speakers texted Mina that she could not present due to being sick. Mina almost had a breakdown. The morning of the workshop? Could she not have told her earlier? I listened to Mina’s complaints; I nodded my head as she cursed the world; I held her hand as she cried; I handed her a tissue as she rang all her contacts to find a replacement speaker. I told her that things like this happen, people do get sick (bad mistake on my part).
The workshop went ahead, and the audience were satisfied, whilst being oblivious to the last-minute line-up change.
I am organising and hosting a show next week. Fourteen performers in front of a 100+ crowd. This afternoon I felt I am getting the sniffles. I am coming down with something. As a bloke, I love to be coming down with something. It gives me an excuse to check out of the rat race, to sit on the couch for three days and to ask for hot tea.
Being sick has been a great excuse to not do something on many occasions. But this time, many other people are relying on me to do my job. I have given them my commitment. So what shall I do? There is only one thing I can do. Follow on with my commitment. What else could I do? Cancel the event? Let down fourteen performers and a hundred eager guests who have paid some money to see the show? Of course not.
Mina’s workshop was not paid, and it had a smaller audience. But should the speakers be any less committed? I believe commitment rests with the person making it, and not with the size of the commitment. Many of us make the most simple mistake. We place a relative value on the thing we are committing to. What we should be placing value in is our commitment.
I have committed to running a show next week. Nothing short of a bus hitting me will stop me doing that. But this should also be the case if I commit to something as simple as visiting my grandmother. Not many people will see my commitment, but it will help me build good habits.
Today at work I had a meeting scheduled with one of our Directors for 2 o’clock in the afternoon. I got there 5 minutes early, as usual, but he did not arrive until 2.10. Our half-an-hour meeting took 45 minutes because he still had to place a call, so despite expecting to meet with another colleague at 2.45, I wasn’t able to get there until 3.00.
To many of you, being 10 minutes late seems insignificant. But think about what you are saying about yourself if you are constantly five or 10 minutes late.
I plan my days in a way which I will explain later, so that I get everything done (usually). I was able to prepare for my meeting with the director and be there on time. But due to his running late, I was the one who was late for my next appointment. Fortunately people I work with know me well and know that I am rarely late. But what if my meeting had been with a new client?
When I am meeting with a supplier and they are late for our meeting, I think one of three things:
If this happens a second or third time, I add two more options:
4. They have more important things to do.
5. They think their time is more important than mine.
Options 1 and 2 are obviously beyond a person's control (not option 1; I will get back to it later though). But suspecting number 3 is the culprit, I begin forming an image of them as indecisive, perhaps they don’t know their business or perhaps they don’t know how to relate to others well. Maybe they are poor at time management.
Options 4 and 5 are far worse. Suspecting one of these will make me look elsewhere for business quicker than just about anything else.
What if you are a manager being late for the meetings?
Managers who are constantly running late will soon lose the respect of their team. The team’s motivation will fall, their productivity will fall. Eventually the manager’s reputation as a leader will suffer.
So how do I plan my day? It is quite simple.
1. Schedule meetings only when absolutely necessary.
This applies to both those who schedule the meeting and those who have been invited.
Take a few minutes to think if a meeting is the best way to achieve your goals. Might it be easier via email? Or better still, go and see a person and see if you can solve an issue one on one.
If you were invited to a meeting, think if you really need to be there. Will you add value? Will you contribute to the solution? Is this the best way to utilise your time? Check with the meeting organiser; they may have just sent out a blanket invitation.
2. Minimum mandatory participants are invited into the meeting.
Don’t send blanket invites to everyone you think may need to be in a meeting. Don’t accept blanket invitations.
3. Define clearly the purpose of the meeting with a strict agenda.
Often meetings are called with no well-defined outcome. This is what makes meetings run over time, and often be ineffective. Try to define the outcome you want to achieve from the meeting. This will often lead to going back to steps 1 and 2. If the meeting is required, make sure that all attendees know what is expected and create agenda where all items contribute to the expected outcome.
4. The meeting starts on time.
This seems obvious but it’s my pet peeve. The organiser of one meeting of 12 people delayed the start of the meeting for one person who was running five minutes late. Whose time is more important? That of 12 people or that of one? The added benefit of starting meetings on time is the people eventually get used to it and start arriving on time.
Added bonus tip: if you are running late to a meeting for a good reason, and the meeting has started, don’t apologise and explain your tardiness; this distracts people and delays the end of the meeting even further. Just walk in quietly, sit down and listen.
5. Allow 15 minutes to half an hour between meetings.
Another seemingly obvious step that most people ignore. You cannot fit eight one-hour meetings into an eight-hour day. No one is that good. You will get interrupted in between meetings. You will need to prepare things for meetings. You will start running late for all meetings. You will start making people think badly of you. And you will be constantly stressed. So add some breathing and thinking time between meetings. You will do better professionally and feel better physically.
Being stuck in traffic is not a good reason to be late for a meeting. If you add enough travel time between meetings, you should use this excuse very rarely.
There are five ways I look at people when they are running late. If someone I know to be reliable is running late I know that it is something serious beyond their control. But I lose respect for someone who is regularly late. Follow my five tips for being on time and you will be held in greater esteem and be seen as a great leader.