Imagine you’ve got a presentation to do. Thirty people are coming to listen to you describe the mating habits of purple emus and how they will affect your project deadlines.
How do you prepare for your presentation?
Write out a script, practice in front of the mirror, then create your slides?
Build your slide deck, write out your speech longhand, and rehearse ’til you’re blue in the face?
Whatever way you prepare your presentation, there is one common preparation process you’ll want to avoid. Avoiding it will save you being lumped in the dumb presenter column.
Sidenote: Just to be clear, I’m not calling you a dumb presenter. Your audience is doing that for me.
So, what’s the preparation process to avoid?
First, I want you to remember the last awesome presentation you saw (maybe something from TED.com, perhaps something from work). Next, I want you to remember the last horrible presentation you were forced to attend (sorry to bring back the memories).
Compare the two presentations. Think about how the presenters spoke. Did one presenter sound more conversational and the other some un-natural, even robotic? Was the conversational presenter the good one? I’m going to assume you’re saying “yes” or nodding your head.
Here’s the thing… Both presenters did a lot of preparation. Both presenters chose to write out a script beforehand. Both presenters know their topic really well. Both presenters practiced their speech before they went on stage. But there is one fundamental difference in the way they prepared… The awesome presenter felt free to not stick to the script. Going off script whenever he felt like it. Mr. Boring tried to keep to his script word-for-word. After all, he’d practiced so much.
Trouble is, even if Mr. Boring could remember his script word-for-word his speech is going to sound terrible.
The way we write and the way we speak are different.
When we speak we often don’t use full sentences. We use more contractions. We repeat words and phrases often. On the other hand, when we write, doing these things can make the writing seem strange.
So, if you write a script it will never sound natural when read aloud. Therefore, when you are preparing your presentation use your script as a guide only. Better still, know your topic really well and work from a presentation outline.
More reading on presentation outlines and remembering your speech here.