Getting Ready For Your Presentation? Have A Plan B
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“Nothing ever goes to plan” is the biggest lie you’ve been told. What it really should say is, “Nothing ever goes to Plan A, so have a plan B.” More often than not, we will avoid preparing for a presentation, and instead go along and hope to just wing it, but the trick is to tackle big challenges head on and leave nothing to chance, so that in case of an emergency, you know exactly what to do. That includes having a contingency plan for technology, what you’re actually doing, as well as the event itself. Here are my solutions to some common problems that you can use in different public situations:
1. Getting there
Don’t show up late! From Google Maps to in-car navigation to traffic updates on the radio, these are all great resources to use to figure out how long it’s going to take you to get to the event, where to park, and what to avoid on your route. Planning your journey to the location you're presenting at means you won’t look like a fool to the organizer, and shows you respect yours, and the audience’s, time. If you are running late, call the organizer and let them know your situation well in advance, so they can work with you to shuffle or reallocate your time on stage.
I can’t list the amount of times on one hand that computers have failed me- issues range from not being compatible with the projector, to the projector not switching on, to my slides being in an unreadable format. If the organizer has outlined specific instructions for your presentation, stick to that. As a rule of thumb, print out your slides so you have both a digital copy and a hard copy, and send them to yourself on email as well, so you can easily forward them to someone else with a computer, or the event organizer to send in a bulk email to attendees.
The AV and technical operators at events are your best friends when you’re onstage. They make you sound amazing, come to your rescue when a microphone may lose battery power, and get the lighting just right so you don’t look like you have a mask from the movie Scream on. Treat them terribly, and you’ll regret it very quickly. So, if you happen to be onstage and the microphone cuts out more than once, pause and see if you can use another onstage (Is there a lectern? A handheld mic to use rather than a cordless? Can you share a mic with another person on stage?) Stay calm and in control- remember your audience feeds off your energy, and once you become flustered, they do too, and your credibility can be lost in a second, along with your key messages.
If you know you’re going to sweat a lot on stage, have a tendency to spill coffee, or get food stuck in your teeth, then pack an extra top, avoid hot drinks and messy food until you’re offstage, and bring a toothbrush with you! Thinking that someone else will help you out, or that you’ll be fine, generally works out worse than if you prepared for it in advance.
Having a “deer in headlights” moment is horrific. It feels like you’ve been frozen onstage for a millennium, and you don’t know what your name is, where you are, or what you just said. My advice for such a situation is to just be human. Grab a glass of water, or ask for some if there’s not any nearby to give you a second to reassess and divert attention, because remember, you are totally in control of what happens on stage. If you can’t remember your next point, consult your notes, or move forward to the next and maintain rhythm, or call on your audience for assistance and ask them, “Is this making sense to everybody? Should we continue on to the next point?” The audience are rooting for you, they want you to be successful on stage remember that.
Now is a perfect time for me to bring up my tips I’ve previously shared: stage fright can be in the room, but not up on stage with you, and it’s up to you how much you let it scare you! You’ll find my five tactics to incorporate into the run up to your next big presentation that will have your mind at ease, and focusing on clearly getting your communication across to your audience, and even actually enjoying yourself.
7. Audience questions
Before you get on stage, ask the event organizer if they can get one friendly person, or a colleague, to kick off Q&A. This avoids the awkward cricket sound that follows, “Does anybody have any questions?” and it’s actually more commonly done than you think. (PR firms have been doing this for years in press conferences!)
8. Time allocation
Need to cut down your 40-minute presentation to five? No sweat! Make sure you have three key messages to convey about your chosen topic, and then follow this formula:
- Introduction (who you are and why you’re onstage)
- Three key messages and how they are linked
- Conclusion (Your three messages again, and where people can contact you for more information)
Have to fill in for the rest of your panel that didn’t show up? No worries; again, the audience is there to help. Ask them what topics they want to hear from you, what questions they have, and if that still doesn’t get you anywhere, use this as a chance to promote your three key messages, as well as a platform to promote anything you’re doing professionally at the moment.