Giving a presentation can be mindless. Walk in, switch on the laptop, turn down the lights, parade those visuals which your PA sorted out for you - which last saw the light of day months ago when you were asked to cover the same topic for a different group in a different country.
If its Friday it must be Birmingham and the topic must begin with a T: Taxonomy or Trace elements or Tax law or Tic-Tacs or Heart Attacks or … sound familiar? Even the most experienced actors tend to lose the plot if they have to perform as themselves – as many a fluffed Oscar night acceptance speech proves. Yet audiences easily forgive the stars' lapses of memory and signs of stage fright because they have seen them performing well in other contexts.
But pity the poor manager who freaks out while giving a presentation and whose audiences have no previous form to judge them by.
Mark Twain's take on the situation was that a good impromtu speech takes about three weeks to prepare.
"Boring!" I hear you all groan. "Get real." I reply.
Why allow an invitation to give a speech or a presentation turn into an opportunity to make a gibbering fool of yourself when undertaking some systematic rehearsal is a fool-proof way to avoid such indignity?
Audiences can only be comfortable in your presence if you signal that you are comfortable to be in theirs. Components that will place you in that comfort zone are:
1. Knowing your material.
2. Knowing the audience you will be presenting to: its size and composition.
3. Knowing the culture/s of the organisation/s audience members belong to.
4. Finding out the size, acoustic and possible seating lay-outs for the venue you're to present in. (The position of light switches, air conditioning regulators, power points, blinds, podiums etc.) 5. Then - and only then – devising a script with a focussed message into which lap top or other good scenic elements are thoughtfully woven..
6. Intending to be heard! which means:
7. Toning up your voice by practising speaking the script out loud so that your muscles to learn to modulate from low to high volume without the hint of a shout:
8. Using your everyday accent - toned-down - so that listeners from any language background can easily follow your argument.
9. Activating your tongue more than usual to elongate vowels and punch out consonants (particularly those at the ends of words) to make your meaning crystal clear.
10. Finding a stance - whether sitting or standing – that is upright and confident so you will be able to meet queries face-on and courteously block deliberately subversive comments.
11. Allotting times to go over and over that script with all scenery and props as if you were really addressing an audience.
12. Allotting sacrosanct time to going over the words of the script in your mind.
13. Devising a back-up plan so that you will be able to say what you need to say even if technological break downs occur.
Secure in this preparation, you'll positively welcome an audience to bounce your ideas off. And once you've done that successfully you'll be itching to do so again and again and again.