The biggest mistake a presenter can make is skipping speech outlines. Without an outline for your presentation, you will go off topic, waste time, and lose your audience in a “spider web presentation” that changes topics widely. These repercussions frustrate your audience and lead to a poor ROI of your presentation. Never start developing a presentation in PowerPoint! Whether you’re new to public speaking or just trying to improve, start every time with speech outlines to ensure your success.
Presentation Preparation Process:
- Brainstorm Speech Ideas – Think of all the potential things you can say about your topic and write them down in a list, or I prefer to use notecards. Don’t worry about silly ideas or thoughts that don’t fit just yet. Flesh out each idea and random tangent your brain has and document them in this process. It is okay, and even a good idea, to grab a colleague to help your brainstorm your presentation.
- Sort & Group your Presentation – Start grouping similar ideas into sections by remaking your list or by rearranging the notecards. (Ease of sorting is why I like using notecards so much.) Remove some of the more abstract and off topic idea and put them aside to use for another presentation in the future. Ideally, you can get your ideas into three distinct groups or a large topic with three sub-groups. (Rule of Three)
- Speech Thesis – As you are narrowing down your ideas, you should have a common element that runs through them — this element is your topic, or what we called a thesis in English class back in school. You thesis is your mission for the presentation and what you want your audience to walk around with when everything is said and done. A sign of a good thesis is when the audience can summarize your presentation as your thesis. My thesis is this blog post is, the importance of speech outlines in your presentation preparation.
- Outline Your Speech – With your thesis in hand and your ideas sorted, your outline should flow fairly easily (as will your practice and visual aid preparation later). Make sure you have a logical order for your presentation and think of transitions. If presenting with someone else, your transition should flow effortlessly and not require someone saying, “Now John will talk about…” If you can not connect the dots from one thought to the other, look at rearranging your order, eliminating a section because it doesn’t fit, or adding a subtopic to help bridge the current gap.
- Walk through the Presentation – I always suggest this simple step to my clients before they dig in to set up their visual aid because it will give you a chance to correct things in seconds on your outline instead of minutes (or hours) in your visual aid. It is better to spend your time practicing your presentation than fixing your PowerPoint slides. Make notes and refine what you’re going to say during this process. If needed, you can write out a loose script, but do not plan on memorizing it. Memorizing a script is dangerous and sets you up for failure.
- Craft Your Visual Aid – Now you can craft your visual aid in your favorite program like PowerPoint, Keynote, or Prezi. Or you may decide to skip a visual aid after all and bring a prop to help you explain and share your message. Remember, your visual aid should be kept concise and with less than 7 words per slide to keep the focus on you instead of the screen. If you bullet out your entire presentation on your visual aid and use that as an outline (like most presenters) than you’re going to have no chance at engaging your audience. This tactic of being ill-prepared also makes you useless as a presenter because your audience can read the slides themselves and puts doubts in their mind if you’re the expert or are you reading someone else’s presentation. Maximize your visual aid usage to maximize your ROI.
- Practice & Revise Your Speech – Continue to practice your presentation out loud, standing up, and with your visual aid. (If you don’t have a projector, just use your computer.) You’d be amazed the difference in the results when you practice like you’re presenting versus just reading your presentation.
- Dress Rehearsal – Presentations are not like acting on stage, yet you still need a dress rehearsal. Put on the suit or dress you plan on using, keeping in mind you may need to wear a wireless microphone). Make sure you outfit allows you to move easily and gesture naturally. (That is a problem with some suits.) If you’re presenting with others, make sure you run through your presentation a few times not just orally, but where each of you will stand and transition the remote. It is always better to figure that out without the pressure of an audience.
You never want to script your presentation. If you read a script, you’ll be so nervous in reading it word-for-word that you won’t make eye contact. You will also not enjoy it as much as you would just having a conversation with your audience.
lso, scripting puts too much pressure on your to memorize and if you miss one thing, it will throw you off. Most presenters utilizing a script sound rehearsed and not genuine and tend to miss huge chunks of their presentation. [I’ve seen scripts lose firms huge projects because the presenter didn’t appear to want the job or lost credibility because the selection committee thought they were not the experts.] Speech outlines allow for flexibility, ease, and let your genuine passion show. They also let you engage your audience because you’re not reading from a script.
Don’t worry about not having a script. As you practice your presentation, you will get more comfortable in both what you’re going to say and the physical delivery of presenting your speech too. You will naturally find better ways to refine your message and the particular words you use as you practice. This progression is why I never suggest you script out what you’re going to say and memorize it. How you outline and practice your presentation in one kind of awesome and how you actually deliver it is another level of awesome. Go out and be awesome!
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How Speak Simple Can Help You
Win more work, increasing your billing rate, and prospects coming to you are all results of being a good presenter. Erica Olson created Speak Simple to help technical professionals to become comfortable presenting and excel at each presentation, whether a bid presentation or an educational, content marketing presentation. Learn more about Speak Simple’s flagship program is SpeakU, a self-guided presentation training program.