I share with you here my technique in preparing to deliver a presentation. It is not the
'rule'. There may well be other techniques that are equally valid. But it is the one I have
developed over the years and has served me well. I will not give you a list of rules to
remember. Instead, I will offer a methodology, an approach, to follow. What works
well for you, you should certainly steal and what does not work for you, you should
Let's take the plunge. Firstly, let us remind ourselves that preparing our presentation,
composing it and choosing the appropriate slides for it etc, is not the same thing as
preparing ourselves to deliver that presentation. They are two separate and different
processes and roughly equal time should be spent on both. Here, I want to share with
you my technique in preparing myself to deliver a presentation.
Lately, it has been quite popular to think of preparing to deliver our presentations as if
we are preparing to tell a story. You may have heard terms like delivering a 'corporate
narrative' and there is a slew of books about storytelling and its relationship to the
delivery of corporate presentations. They make the case that they are quite similar.
Each has a beginning, middle, and end. Each possesses core facts and supporting
information to make those core facts clear. Like a good story, a corporate presentation
uses images, concepts, and metaphors which help us connect to our audience. The key
to this approach is to find the right balance between the facts we hope to share and the
images, concepts, and metaphors we employ to communicate those facts in a creative
and enjoyable way. In this way, our audience will feel engaged. And so, this idea has
gained much traction recently, because a good story leads the listener along and grips
I have no issue with that, but I offer you here a different way of thinking about
preparing ourselves to deliver our presentations.
Imagine that we are now on the spot and all eyes are on us as we brace ourselves to
begin our presentation.
We may be picturing ourselves facing a skeptical audience. We may be feeling
butterflies in our stomachs. We may be shaking our heads to chase away our self-doubt
or armoring ourselves for a fight.
But wait. Pardon my asking the obvious, but before we set off, should we not first think
about the practicalities? We may need to test the devices we hope to use during the
presentation, so we are confident that they are functioning just as we wish them to
And before we open our mouths, it is always good practice to get to know the space in
which we are presenting. If we have not been in that space before, we might ask
someone, who has been there, what the room is like. And in these days of miracles and
wonders, it may be possible to preview the space virtually online.
It is helpful to our preparations to present to get to know the room. We try to
understand the environment. Not just in what the room looks like, but also its lighting,
its acoustic nature, and any distractions that may compete with us for the attention of
I refer to distractions like a large window behind us with people out walking in the
street or the dreadful climate control soporific hum of the heating and cooling systems.
We hope to master the room, to make it ours, to command the room. The adage used
to be, 'if you cannot remember the color of the walls of the room in which you have
just presented, you were not really in the room'. There is some truth in that. We must
do all we can to know the space in which we are presenting.
There is another particularly important element to consider in the room. That, of
course, is our audience. In preparing ourselves to deliver our presentation, we must
spend adequate time considering the composition of our audience.
Who are they? What are their roles? Why are they there? What might they really want
from listening to us? How can we influence them?
This may be self-evident when presenting at a team meeting or in a classroom, but
when presenting to a group who we do not know, we must try to get to know as much
about them as we can before we speak to them. It gives us a good head start to our
considerations on the best way to address them.
My usual practice is to look for someone who may know this audience. Preferably, this
might be someone who has addressed them in the past. If we are given a list of
delegates who will be at our presentation, we can use social media to try to learn as
much about them as we can. We should dedicate as much time and effort as possible in
getting to know our audience. If we do, it will make it that much easier for us to
connect with them. And to connect with our audience is, as discussed, the first part of
our three-part 'Task'.
Fabulous! We have now spent time trying to know the room and its environment and to
try, what we can, to get to know who will be listening to us. We have tested our
equipment. We are all set to go.
But again, hold on a moment. There is one final element to consider in our
preparations before we shove off to deliver our presentation. And that final element is-
I share with you now what I do to prepare myself and give myself every chance to be
effective and have 'personal impact' in my presentation.
To start, let me say that everything I do to prepare myself is done in order to 'draw
myself out' and to 'externalize' myself.
I have a motto to follow about this. 'Get out of the little room and into the big room'.
I work to 'Get out of the little room (my head) and into the big room' (the space in
which I am presenting).
I work to end my interior monologue. I stop talking to myself inside my head. I draw
myself out. I get in the room and I stay in the room. After all, we are presenting in the
room and not in our head.
Our presentation is not about us. It is about our audience. We are audience focused.
We address the needs and desires of our audience. Not our own needs and desires. We
present to the audience in the 'big room'. It is in the 'big room' where we need to be
and where we need to stay. But to stay there, we first need to master ourselves.
There are many old sayings about mastering ourselves. Different cultures have different
ways of putting it. In Britain, we might say, 'Get over yourself!' or 'Will you listen to
There are more modern versions too, such as, 'Deal with it!' 'Move on!' 'Lighten up!' 'Get
a grip!' and I am sure a host of others. If that sounds harsh, I only share it with you,
because it is important for us to learn how to 'lighten up' and 'get over ourselves'.
When I first started presenting, oh so many years ago, and things did not go as well as
I had hoped, because I let myself get in the way of my own message, I began to think
of presenting in a new way. I would tell myself that I was being selfish. That I was
more concerned about myself and how I was doing than I was about my audience and
I 'got over myself' and started caring more about my audience than about the 'great
me'. Now, I always get out of the 'little room' and into the 'big room' for that is where
our audience lives.
I do a little trick to remind myself of this. Steal it, if you wish.
Even when presenting in a room I know well, I always do a quick scan of the space and
look for something in that space that I imagine no one else will have noticed. It takes
me away from myself and puts me into the 'big room'. I look for that 'spot in the room'.
I do not stare at it as I present, but I know it is there. It takes me out of myself and
into the room. It assists me in not getting in my own way.
We work not to get in the way of our own presentation. Everything we do, and the way
we do and say it, matches the content of what we are relating in our presentation.
In managing our behavior when speaking, we can match the conviction of what we
have to say. We avoid getting in the way of our own message. Our fraught body
language does not send out mixed signals that conflict with our verbal expression. We
avoid creating a mismatch between our content and our behavior. We are in control of
ourselves as we lead our audience along with us.
THE THREE GIVENS
That is easier said than done and our own fears and foibles must be mastered in order
to achieve it. But they can be mastered, and this is what I have come to know and
embrace that allows me to manage that.
I accept the 'Givens'.
I accept the 'givens' in my presentation. In my view, there are primarily three of them.
Let's go through them one by one and see if we can all accept the 'givens'. Let's learn
how to accept the 'givens', the realities of our situation as presenters.
If I am speaking to an audience who are all capable of seeing, I accept the first 'given'
that I will be seen. Our audience will see us anyway, well or poorly, and so I accept that
Whenever I see a presenter fiddling with a pen in their hands or rocking from side to
side or swatting at 'invisible birds' and gesturing without pause or purpose, I take pity
upon them. I think to myself that they have not truly accepted the fact that they will be
seen. I view their anxiety and stress as a form of 'hiding'.
I suggest that we take this given of being seen even further. Commit to ourselves that
we 'intend to be seen'. We will be seen for good or ill and we intend to be seen well.
We will be seen. We accept it.
Okay, that is not often easy. We may have some deeply engrained fear of being noticed
in a group. It could well be a primal fear. Perhaps it goes back to our ancient past,
when we went out on the hunt with our fellow hunter-gatherers and were successful in
trapping and killing a wild boar.
We drag the poor creature back to our cave and have a feast together. But we know
that after the feast, one of us will have to be sacrificed to appease the 'hunting
goddess'. So, we try our best to keep a low profile to make sure that we are not the
unlucky one who is chosen. I do not know, but perhaps our fear of being seen by a
group is as deeply buried a fear as that.
But certainly no one is going to sacrifice us after our presentation.
We can overcome this basic fear by accepting the given that we will be seen. Accept it
and strive to be seen well. We do not let our fear affect our body language and get in
the way of our presentational task. We will be seen. Accept it. It is a given.
The second of the three 'givens' is much like the first. If we are convinced that our
audience is perfectly capable of hearing us, we accept the given that we will be heard.
We will be heard for good or ill and so we accept this reality and take it further and
commit to the idea that we 'intend to be heard'.
When we start mumbling incoherently or ramble so quickly that no one could possibly
take in all that we are saying or we speak so softly that no ear could possibly hear us,
we have not accepted the 'given' that we will be heard. Accept it. It is a given.
This matter of not wishing to be heard may also go back to some primal defense
mechanism. I do not know. Perhaps, back in our cave-dwelling days, we once saw a
saber-toothed tiger lurking outside its entrance. It was a matter of survival to be as still
and silent as possible. This fear of being heard may be as deeply rooted as that.
But after many years of listening to presentations, I can clearly see and hear that it is a
fear for many. We can overcome that fear by accepting it as a 'given' that we will be
heard whatever we do.
There is a third and final 'given' in my view. Let me try to address it in the following
When we deliver a presentation, I do not think that anyone would come up to us
afterward and say, 'Well done! You remembered all your content'. It is expected of us to
remember the content of our presentations. It too is a 'given'.
We get no prizes for it. We are professional presenters, our workplaces pay us a salary,
and it is part of our job to know our content.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but this third 'given' involves some work on all our
parts. We must work to learn our presentation. We spend time doing so. We go over it
and over it. We come to know our 'pillars'. We work to recall the supporting information
for each pillar. We remember what slide goes with what pillar and in what order. We
put in the hard graft to learn it.
But at some point in this learning process, we must muster the courage to tell ourselves
that we do know our presentation. Once we have put in the prerequisite effort, we
accept that we now know it.
We accept the 'given' that we know our presentation. I call it the 'I know this
presentation moment'. We commit to ourselves that we know it and stop
second-guessing ourselves to the contrary.
We put down our presentation material and only look at it again to 'bone up' on it, if
time has elapsed from the time we learned it to the time we must deliver it.
I suggest we do the confident thing at some stage and let our script go, confident that
we do now know it. We worked hard so that we would know it. We own it. It is ours.
And we accept that we know it.
It is a 'given' that we know it.
Create a symbolic ceremony once we commit to ourselves that we do know our
presentation. Slowly lower the screen on our laptop or close the folder where our
And leave it closed.
Unless we accept this 'given', we may become trapped in trying to recall our content
instead of delivering our content. We fall back into the 'little room' that we already
agreed was best avoided. We start to doubt ourselves and lose confidence. Creating a
symbolic ceremony to signal that we know our presentation is a confidence-building
thing to do.
So, let's give ourselves a reward for taking that action. Have a cup of tea or chocolate
bar or something to mark the occasion. We have had our 'I know this presentation
Celebrate it. We deserve it.
I am often asked by delegates in my workshops to help them to gain confidence or
have more confidence when presenting. In response, I usually repeat the same mantra.
'Confident people do confident things.'
Confidence is not, in my opinion, some hereditary trait like blue eyes or brown.
Confident people do confident things. Accepting the 'givens' is a confident thing to do
and therefore gives us confidence.
Yes, I am aware that there are many occasions when we are afforded little time to learn
our presentations. We are all under pressure. And I accept that as a given too.
It may be useful here to offer you a fictitious anecdote to help us remember that we all
need to find the 'I know this presentation moment' even with limited time at our
I was recently asked by my partner to help in preparing a meal for our guests who were
arriving that evening. I am no master chef, but I was put in charge of baking some
potatoes for the meal. I can just about manage that! And so, I began.
I preheated the oven. I put the potatoes in a colander and washed them. I dug out any
bad spots in them with a knife. I took out a baking tray, put the potatoes on the tray,
and seasoned them.
I then checked the time and put the potatoes in the oven. I had an hour or so to kill
before the potatoes would be baked. I went into the living room and began reading a
Sunday newspaper magazine article. And after a few minutes, I thought to myself, 'I
wonder if those spuds are still in the oven?' So, I went back in the kitchen and, sure
enough, they were still in there. Back I go to reading the article and then after a few
more minutes, I again asked myself, 'Did I put those potatoes in to bake?' And I am
back in the kitchen again, opening the oven door again and, sure enough, there they
I share this with you in the hope that we may all grasp why we must accept the given
that we know our presentation. If in the fairytale I just related, I kept opening and
reopening the oven door, my potatoes never would have baked properly. I would have
continually let out all the heat. To help us remember this third 'given', I give you
'Let our potatoes bake'.
Once we accept that we have done the proper work to know our presentation, we let it
bake and stop reopening the door to it. We do not mumble the content of our
presentations to ourselves in panic as we prepare to deliver it. We have already
accepted the 'given' that we know our content.
Yes, we should know our presentations. It is a given. We have no excuse not to know
them. But it may also be beneficial for us to bear in mind that our presentations are not
solely about getting all our content spot-on in a word-perfect sense across to our
Were that the case, then we should simply put the entire content of our presentations
together, slides and all, and send them to our audience.
They then would have all the words in the right order just as we prepared. There would
be no pressure on us. They would all have our content and could absorb it for
themselves at their leisure.
But if we did that, we would neglect the 'Task' of our presentation.
We would lose the opportunity to connect with our audience and win them over to our
cause. We would not be able to lead our audience along in the direction we wish to lead
them. And, most importantly, we would forfeit our chance to influence them in what we
say and by the way we say it, so that they will respond to us. Our human-to-human live
presentation would no longer exist. We would forego our moment in the sun where our
message can shine.
I suggest that we not be overly obsessed with getting every single word out perfectly.
After all, we are only human. For instance, we might forget some supporting
information to one of our pillars. It is okay. It is not the end of the world.
If that happens, we may be able to include it in our answers during the
post-presentation question section after we have finished delivering the body of our
presentation. Just because we have forgotten something does not make our
presentation a lost cause.
But let us not forget this. It is important to remember that failing to accept our 'givens'
will lead to difficulties in our presentations.
We can lose control of our body language in our vain attempt to 'hide'. We can develop
problems with our vocal delivery, if we neglect to remember that we will be heard. We
may struggle with our intonation, articulation, projection, and our tempo of delivery.
We can put ourselves in danger of 'drying up' and forgetting the content of our
presentation by failing to commit to ourselves that we know our content.
If we accept the 'givens', many of our body language issues and vocal delivery
problems will fade away. We will be able to manage our behavior when presenting
much more easily and avoid getting in the way of our own content.
All we really need to do is to accept the reality that we face as professional presenters.
We accept the 'givens' of our presentational reality. If we do not accept them, it will not
make that reality magically disappear.
Our audience will still see us. They will still hear us. We must still deliver our content.
PREPARING TO PRESENT