There’s a significant difference between how less-experienced and more-experienced speakers approach a presentation.
The less-experienced speaker tends to focus on minute details at the expense of the big picture, while experienced speakers work backward from the big picture into the details.
Let me explain.
What less experienced speakers do
You’re a newer speaker, or a speaker who just doesn’t get much opportunity to practise your skills. You start working on your new presentation, and the first thing you do is open your PowerPoint program (if you don’t use slides – or you’re old-school – you open Word) and start typing out bullet points.
Maybe you feel the need to type out your ideas word-for-word, so you start creating a script.
Once you get the bullets laid out, you start tweaking your slides. You obsess over the colors, the fonts, the graphs, the images.
Maybe you go over your presentation in your head a few times.
If you’ve created a script, you start trying to memorize it.
Then you start to worry. You think to yourself, “What if I lose my place?” “What do I do with my hands?” “What if I get tongue-tied and mess up my words?” “What if I can’t answer EVERY QUESTION?”
And this is where you stop actually developing the presentation and creating desired outcomes for your audience. This is where you become preoccupied with everything that might go wrong instead of focusing on how to make it a great experience for your audience. This is where you get into the weeds, and where you start making it all about you and your fears.
Many speakers never get past this point, and end up delivering mediocre presentations with no positive impact or transformation for the audience.
What more experienced speakers do
Now imagine you’re a more experienced speaker. Working backward from the big picture means you start with your objectives.
What results do you want for yourself and what results do you want for the audience?
- How do you want them to feel at the end of your presentation?
- What do you want them to do as a result of your presentation?
- What behaviors or attitudes do you want them to question and consider changing?
- What immediate actions do you want them to take?
Once you know how you want to proceed, you create an outline that takes your audience on this journey from point A to point B, from where they are now to where they want to be. You create a structure and a flow that leads them down a path to your (and their) desired result.
As you fill in these details, you start to create a plan for how you’ll connect with your audience (and connect them to each other) through engagement techniques. You start to add into your outline where and how you’ll help them learn and retain your information, through discussion, activities, interaction, stories, demonstrations, partner work, examples and analogies.
Practice, practice, and more practice
Once you create these engagement pieces of your presentation, the pieces that help illustrate your points and involve active learning, then you begin to practise.
You practise out loud. You practise frequently. And you give yourself enough time to practise so that at least a full day or two before the presentation, you feel ready. You practise enough that you feel like you can have a conversation with your audience about your topic, because you’re comfortable with the flow of your content.
What about the nerves?
Does this mean you don’t feel nervous about making mistakes or losing your place? Ha – if only that were so!
Nope, you’ll still feel nervous, because it’s human nature. We want to do well, we want to serve the audience to our best ability, and of course we don’t want to fail!
But the difference here is that, for the experienced speakers, these concerns are more minor. The nervousness is more like an annoying gnat than a blood-thirsty mosquito. You’ve already put your audience’s needs first through your thorough preparation. You’ve already figured out how to connect, engage and collaborate with them so that your presentation is more of a partnership than a lecture or a performance.
Reframe your fears
The experienced speaker has another trick up her sleeve: she’s learned how to reframe her negative thoughts so they don’t control her. She manages the negative thoughts through acknowledging them and reframing them positively.
Where the inexperienced speaker says, “I’m going to lose my place,” and gets stuck in that fear, the experienced speaker says, “I might lose my place, but if I do, I can refer back to my notes.” Or “I might lose my place, but if I do, the audience won’t even know!”
Where the inexperienced speaker obsesses over what to do with their hands and body, the experienced speaker has practised enough so that their movements and gestures naturally flow, as they do when having a conversation with friends.
Where the inexperienced speaker fears getting tongue-tied, the experienced speaker reframes this as “If I stumble on a word, I’ll just make a joke and move on. We’re all human.”
The big-picture approach – working backward from your desired result and managing negative thoughts through reframing – is how the pros make presenting look so easy.
But the good news is that you don’t have to be a pro or a veteran speaker to use these techniques!
Practise the big-picture approach the next time you start to create a presentation, and I promise you that you’ll never want to go back to the old way of preparing.
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