Presentations are your chance to make an impression. Whether you’re standing before 100 important company leaders or just a handful of people you know, the content and delivery of your presentation has the power to make or break you.
But while your instincts might suggest that the effectiveness of your presentation stems from how you deliver it in the crucial moment, the reality is that it stems from how you prepare it in the days leading up to that moment.
When I speak with effective presenters about how they prepared, they always have similar answers. Try using these pre-game strategies to prepare for a successful presentation to make a serious impression:
1. Research the Venue
The venue of your presentation holds much influence over your eventual effectiveness. For example, imagine giving a presentation to a fully loaded auditorium with a PA system versus a small conference room with snappy acoustics and only room for a handful of people. I would hope your presentations in each of these venues would be drastically different.
The size of your venue, the size of your audience, the formality of your venue, and even the resources and equipment available to you should all help shape the form your presentation ends up in. You can’t prepare one universal presentation and have it be appropriate for all venues; do your research in advance and build a successful presentation around it.
2. Research the Audience
You’ll also need to research your audience, as they’re the ones who will decide whether or not your presentation is effective. How many people will be in your audience? Will they be male or female? How old are they? What positions do they hold? What is their interest in your work?
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You need to understand everything about these people, from what elements of your project will be most appealing to what jokes they’ll be able to relate to. It will help you craft the tone, the position, and the direction of your presentation. Otherwise, you run the risk of giving a completely inappropriate speech.
3. Outline a Framework of Key Points
Next, great speakers typically start with an outline of all the key points they want to make during the course of the presentation. This should all stem from one key point, which will serve as your thesis or your presentation goal; this is the main point you want to get across to your audience, and all your other points exist solely to support it and drive it home.
When creating these, try not to get too specific—don’t write out full paragraphs around the point you want to make. Instead, focus on the bullet point version. This skeletal presentation framework will help you later in the process.
4. Create a Presentation — Not a Speech
Now, you should be ready to prepare the entirety of your presentation, in whatever form it takes. It may include creating a prototype or preparing an interactive demonstration. It may be more basic and take the form of a PowerPoint presentation.
Whatever you choose, be sure you’re only creating the presentation elements, and that you aren’t writing a speech. If you need to jot down notes, that’s fine, but writing a full speech in detail may restrict you to the point where you sound over-rehearsed.
5. Practice — But Not Too Much
Great speakers always practice before presentation day, but they never go over-the-top with it. A successful presentation has a natural element to it, with the speaker appearing off-the-cuff and conversational rather than simply reading from a text. If you practice too much, you run the risk of appearing over-rehearsed, so only practice until you feel comfortable enough to go live.
During the course of these practice sessions, be sure you touch on all the elements of your presentation, not just your speech. Focus on your posture, your body language, your eye contact, your pacing, and your tone.
6. Get Feedback
There are many great speakers out there, but none of them are perfect. When you create your presentation, there are bound to be flaws, either on paper or in your execution. You’ll be able to catch many of these as you practice and study your presentation, but you won’t be able to catch all of them.
For a little extra coverage, great speakers often seek out people they respect—such as friends, family, or mentors—and ask them to critique their work-in-progress. This feedback stage is important because it gets you the opinions of outside observers, and helps you realize errors and flaws you may otherwise have missed.
If you outline your presentation and bring it in that exact format to the main event, you’ve done something wrong. Every presentation can and should be improved before it is brought to an audience; otherwise all your prep work will have been for show.
After practicing and getting feedback, look at your outline and your presentation materials with a fresh set of eyes, and make any revisions that can improve your work. Generally, the more you cut out the better—most speaking formats favor concise presentations.
These seven pre-presentation strategies will help you prepare content that speaks to an audience and deliver it in a way that makes a lasting impression. Your performance on presentation day will factor into your overall success, but the vast majority of your results will depend exclusively on how well you prepared beforehand.
Presentation Photo via Shutterstock