This month, I’m outlining my recommendations for Habit 2 – consistently follow a preparation model.

Last month I stated that Habit 1 (you can catch up here, if you missed this one) is the most important habit, and that’s true. But, number 2 is the most helpful habit.

Having a preparation model nailed will take away a large source of the stress of speaking. If you know which steps you need to take to prepare your talk, and they are the same every time, it can help to eliminate procrastination that creeps in when you are anxious about failing.

Defeat the procrastination (that can sometimes eat up weeks!) by getting on with your preparation process well in advance of the delivery date. This will free up more time for practice and you’ll be one step closer to becoming an exceptional presenter.

So, here are the 6 steps that I believe are the critical stages of a consistent preparation model:

  • Consider the audience

Your first step should always be to think about who is going to be in the room when you present. What kinds of people will be in the audience? What do they want to hear? Why are they there? And, most critically, what will motivate them to take action? Having all of this information figured out in advance will make structuring your content much easier.

It’s also a good idea to consider the level of knowledge and the seniority of the majority of the event participants – you don’t want to be speaking over their heads, or boring the pants off them.

  • Decide the outcome

What is the purpose of the presentation that you are giving? Is it a motivational speech, Martin Luther King style? Is it something educational, where you want to help your audience to increase their knowledge base? Are you there to engage the audience and position yourself as an expert or thought leader with a view to selling to them? Or are you sharing critical information?

Whichever type of presentation it is, use this information to help you identify how much fact, example and detail to include in your content.

Don’t even consider positioning your content as an ‘update’. This is the most boring type of presentation, it’s old fashioned and probably better to send this sort of information by email rather than verbalising a turgid, text-heavy set of slides in front of a live audience.

  • Brainstorm

The truth of the matter is that most people just update an old slide deck when they are preparing a presentation, but this can be limiting as it only allows you to think about what you are including along rigid, pre-set structural lines.

The trick to making every presentation work for a specific audience is to brainstorm the content fresh each time. I recommend using a mind-mapping technique and thinking along the lines of: ‘What could I include?’ rather than: ‘What should I include?’ Enjoy the creative possibilities by using the right-hand side of the brain.

  • Select and structure

Once you have brainstormed the content, it’s time to boil down your message and work out the structure for the presentation.

First decide how you are going to present your content. You might choose to use PowerPoint slides, present with a flipchart, storyboard or free range with no aids at all.

Figure out how many points you are going to include in your presentation. The maximum you should ever include is nine. This come from the seminal 7 + / – 2 paper, written by George Miller in 1956. People cannot remember more than 5-9 key chunks of information in a short period of time.

Ideally use the Power of 3 – all great performers understand this principle. It suggests that in spoken (and written) communication, things grouped in 3s are more satisfying, more effective and easier to remember. Think advertising and marketing (Nike = Just Do It), slogans (Britain isn’t working), stories (Three Blind Mice), inspirational quotes (‘Seize the day’) or indeed common phrases (‘blood, sweat and tears’).

You also need to make sure that you have a strong start and a finish. People are most likely to remember the first and last things that they hear.

  • Rehearse

Practising can be uncomfortable, but you must make yourself do this. It’s not good enough to just think through how you are going to say things in your head, you must actually stand up and give the speech.

Record a video of yourself delivering so that you can see what the audience are going to see and identify any boring patches, or ill thought-out concepts, or odd gestures.

  • Access a resourceful state

You are likely going to feel nervous before you deliver this presentation, and that’s fine. But, you need to work on getting yourself into a resourceful state so that the nerves are helping you to perform, rather than communicating anxiety and a lack of confidence to your audience.

Being in this resourceful state will allow you to appear calm, in charge of the situation (i.e. a natural leader) and confident of what you are saying.

Here are 3 ways to be confident when you present:

  • Breathe diaphragmatically and slowly for 5 minutes (in through nose for 7, hold for 7, out through mouth for 7).
  • Visualise a successful outcome. So often we catastrophise – I have heard everything: ‘I’m going to freeze / die / not answer questions well’, etc. Spend some time visualising yourself delivering a great presentation and see it as a colour video and as panoramic as possible in your mind
  • Use Amy Cuddy’s ‘power poses’. Watch her TedTalk and use one of the poses. You only have to do this for two minutes to get a positive impact. I use it always for conference presentations to large audiences. Works every time.

These are the six basic steps of a preparation model that works for me. Use the model consistently and you will start seeing the results. You’ll save time, feel more confident, deliver with consistency and less prevarication – knowing that following the process helps you to feel fully prepared to wow the audience.

If you’d like to find out about the other 11 habits of exceptional speakers, why not get yourself a copy of my guide to this framework, or share this with a colleague. This guide outlines the exact approach that I follow with my coaching clients. You’ll find it here.

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