There are many ways to successfully deliver a presentation and many more to fail at it. Here are three common mistakes that speakers make, professional speakers included; all three have to do with a lack of adequate preparation.
- Not Understanding the Assignment
Before ever leaving your own office, it is critical to understand why you have been scheduled to speak to this group at this time. Such understanding necessitates that you read about the organization, get information about the audience’s current challenges and hot buttons, and learn what the meeting planner has in mind for the presentation. Five-minute conversations over the phone with a meeting planner do not tend to supply you with all you need to know in that area. If you’re a celebrity speaker, you are brought in so that people in the audience can go home and say “I saw so and so.” It barely matters what you speak about as long as you are semi-coherent and don’t offend the group. From the rest of us, however, the people in the seats desire to hear ideas and concepts that directly relate to the professional and personal challenges they face. Or, they want to hear about issues of universal importance, i.e. affecting their communities, state, nation, or the planet. The only way to come armed with the proper information about the scenario and setting is to spend at least an hour researching the group and the situation.
- Failing to Know Your Audience
Beyond understanding the setting and why you are invited to speak, knowing the audience is itself an art and a science. * Who are they? * What is their age range? * What is their educational background? * How long have they been with the organization? * What is this particular meeting designed to do? Probe even further. How far have they come? Do they know each other or are they assembling for the first time? What will they hear before and after the presentation? What did they hear last year or at a similar meeting? How would they like to feel and what would they like to “get” as a result of your presentation–when they leave the room, how will they be changed? As you can quickly surmise, the answers to these questions are not ones that you can intuit. You have to ask the meeting professional who hired you, the movers and shakers who will be in attendance, and other key operatives of the organization. This usually requires an email or fax request, sometimes reviewing the questions by phone since your contacts will be very busy. Unless you find answers to these types of questions, and there isn’t much more that you could know, don’t accept the presentation. Without this information, your presentation may hit the mark if you are incredibly lucky, but chances are that you will simply dance around the periphery of what you need to do and say to be successful. If it’s a one-time presentation, and you don’t intend to do much more speaking, you’ll probably be able to get away with this. If you want to speak professionally, however, there is no effective substitute for “knowing the audience.”
- Not Arriving With Sufficient Clearance Time
Whether your presentation is across the world, across the country, or across town, increase your probability of success by arriving in plenty of time. This may require coming in the night before you’re scheduled to present. When you arrive early, you gain a considerable advantage which can often be the make-or-break factor in the success of your presentation. You get to settle in, calm down, check out the facilities, walk the room, talk to people, check out equipment, and arrange things. In doing so, you give yourself the edge over the speaker who arrives “just in time.” These days, with affordable mobile technology, you can be productive all day long wherever you are, so arrive early!
By Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE