I have heard, anecdotally, mind you, that people, when surveyed fear public speaking more than they do death. As I prepare to teach a few sessions at PowerPoint Live the week of September 21st, I decided to reflect upon my strategy for pulling off a stage performance.
Rikk speaking at the CorelDraw Unleashed User’s Conference.
The speaker who assembles the materials for the impending presentation the night before is asking to look amateurish. Generally speaking, I like to have the presentation ‘in the can’ at least four days in advance of the event. That affords me plenty of time for rehearsal, tweaking and digestion.
Generally, I build my presentations from pages of handwritten notes of random thoughts collected over the weeks preceding a speaking engagement. Those notes are then organized into a MS Word document in outline form for easy export to PowerPoint. Using the conference template, or a template designed for the event by me, I incorporate my outline into the presentation software to begin to flesh out the electronic augments to my talking.
Fleshing out the ideas in PowerPoint.
As I build the presentation, I make a list of images needed so that I can source or create them as necessary. Once I have the entire slide deck built, I start adding speaker’s notes. I put the detailed notes on each slide so that I can have a basis from which to rehearse. Then, and only then, do I feel like I have the presentation ‘in the can’.
Rehearsal is much like preparation only it is the step with which too few presenters bother. I like to run PowerPoint in Presenter mode on the first rehearsal using a secondary LCD monitor as my faux projector. (This saves on lamp life on my regular projection equipment) The first run through is likely to take two-three times as long as the finished presentation.
In Presenter mode, I can change my speaker notes without having to constantly bounce between Show mode and Edit mode. I can see animations, time slides and get an overall feel for pacing and length. This first run through is where I cull material and make notes for expanding content in other areas.
“Most audiences are forgiving of equipment failures but not of speaking failures.”
After the first run through, I make the corrections I couldn’t make live: tweak graphics, fine tune animation timing, reword awkward phrases and move slides which suddenly seem out of place.
The second run through-never done on the same day- is very much similar. I run Presenter’s mode on a LCD screen. This time, I run with a remote instead of a keyboard and I read my text from my speaker’s notes verbatim. This helps ensure that I am getting all the necessary facts in my narrative. Any minor tweaks necessary are updated after a complete run through. I check my time carefully against the allotted time slot and trim if necessary (I am almost never short on topic or long on time.)
Time for projection.
Now, I let the material set overnight again. I am just a day or two out from delivery. When I come in the next day, I try to hit the same start time as my presentation to prepare my body for the rhythm of the day on which I will be presenting. This is a luxury my schedule can usually afford. I set up the projector and do the presentation live with laptop and remote but I stay where I can see the screen. As I present, I glance at the laptop screen to review the speaker’s notes to reinforce all the details my speaking component needs to deliver. If I am on time, I consider myself ready for dress rehearsal.
Dress rehearsal means prepping my laptop as I described in a previous article. It also means that I run the presentation exactly as I would before the group with presenter view disabled and the laptop screen off to send the maximum amount of graphics power through the projector. My notes are now, hopefully, in my head and I need only to glance at the screen to give myself a visual clue as to my next topic if I get stuck.
The day has arrived. I don’t usually rehearse the day of a presentation. I have found it flattens my live performance. I double check my laptop for presentation readiness, arrive at my room early, set up and am ready to start on time. Drink a little water. Have your back up mouse, pointer, presentation on thumb drive and any paper notes where you can find them. Greet your guests as they arrive and begin working the room.
With four rehearsals under my belt already and using content I have written myself, the chance of not knowing what to say or do diminishes drastically. It seems I almost always go 5% longer than the time allotted or the time in rehearsal. Usually it is because I get comfortable with my audience and find little ways to include them in my experiences that might be part of unrehearsed by not unrelated personal anecdotes.
Speak slowly and clearly, with authority, look people in the eyes and use the entire room. If something happens-equipment wise. Stop and fix or reset if you can do it timely. Get things working right before going on but do not lose so much time that your audience can drift. Practicing with your equipment in rehearsal can make this process of quickly diagnosing, fixing, or resorting to backup very seamless to your listeners. Most audiences are forgiving of equipment failures but not of speaking failures.
A lot of preparation with a generous number of rehearsals and a cool-under-fire delivery will help you ‘pull it off’.
Rikk Flohr © 2008