Big Presentation Tips

This past week I did a thirty-minute talk as the leadoff presentation of our internal symposium.  This was one of my larger talks I have done, and it was an important one in my professional world.  A few days have past and I have had a chance to reflect on the overall experience.  I am happy to report the talk itself went well, based on the feedback I got.  Most importantly, my boss was happy!

Doing great presentations is an required skill for leaders in today’s business world.  I have decided to double my efforts to improve in this area.  I’ve been told I am competent as a speaker, but I would like to become a lot better at it.  It’s probably the best thing I can do to prepare for the next level.

I learned a few valuable lessons that I will apply next time (hopefully) I am invited to do a talk.  The three big lessons were: be clear about your goal, work with a team and rehearse in front of an audience.

Be Clear About Your Goal

In this recent experience, the goal was apparent to me.  I was speaking in front of an external expert and I had a good idea of what he was going to say.  As I was going through preparation, I went back to my objective: to energize and inspire the audience.  Essentially I wanted to “build a bridge” to next speaker.  I found it helpful to remind myself of that objective often during the process.  It helped me stay on point and get the right content in the talk.

Work With a Team

As a senior manager, I have access to a great team in my laboratory.  I brought together a small group of people to help me craft the presentation file, sound out the key messages and provide encouragement and support.  I don’t think you’d need direct reports to build a team to help.  If it’s important enough, you should not have too much trouble getting some teammates to help.  Probably the biggest help my team provided in this experience was to provide encouragement, especially as the talk got closer.  They helped me keep things in perspective.

Rehearse In Front of An Audience

For big presentations, I found it to be critical to give the talk to as large an audience as you can find.  If you can replicate the venue of the talk that is helpful as well.  This will help you figure out the time of your talk, and give you a chance to gather feedback.  As my instructor a few weeks ago said, it’s all about muscle memory.  If you go through a good dress rehearsal, your body will remember how it felt and it will reduce your stress as a speaker.

As I mentioned earlier, I think being clear about the goal, working with a team and rehearsing in front of an audience will be the activities I will focus on next time I get the call to do a big presentation.