How to Prepare for a Big Presentation

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If you’re like most people, you are terrified of speaking in public. I’ve learned that no matter how many times I speak, I get really nervous every single time. My heart starts racing, and I suddenly feel like going to the restroom every 30 seconds. According to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health, 74% of people suffer from speech anxiety.

For me the anxiety has never gone away; now I’m just used to the feeling. “Oh, here it is, I know this feeling.” I am giving three presentations in the span of four days next week, so I thought this would be a good time to talk about preparation. Here are some tips I’ve found that work for me.

Put content over delivery

Most people will forgive an unpolished delivery if the presentation has a lot of substance. What they won’t forgive, however, is an excellent delivery that has very little value or is filled with fluff. Content is always my starting point, and the question I ask myself is, “Is this the most valuable content that I can give this audience?” As long as you’re delivering a good amount of value, you can’t go wrong.

As long as you’re delivering a good amount of value, you can’t go wrong.

Putting content over delivery also creates a neat side effect. It makes you feel like you really know your shit. This comes in handy when the nerves strike—you can rely on the fact that you really know what you’re talking about.

Get feedback if you can

According to the book Resonate (which is fantastic, by the way), over 45 percent of people spend less than 1 hour preparing for a big presentation, even though they acknowledge that the ability to present well can take their careers to the next level. There’s no other way to say this: YOU NEED TO PRACTICE. Don’t think you’re going to wing it well just because you’re outgoing or loud. If you’re not feeling nervous, that’s cause for concern as well. Darren Lacroix, 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking, says that whenever he wasn’t feeling nervous before a presentation, that’s when he would usually bomb.

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Set time aside to prepare your presentation early, and get it to the point where you can present it as if you’re in front of the audience. Show it to a couple of friends or colleagues and get their feedback. At the very least, record yourself with your phone or computer, make some popcorn, and watch your presentation while you make notes on what you can do better. Some people say, “I don’t want to have to watch myself on video!” Well, guess what, your audience isn’t going to have a choice! You might as well give yourself a preview.

Another thing you can do is to visualize the audience you’re presenting to while you practice. I happen to have a pretty vivid imagination, so when I visualize the audience in front of me, I actually feel nervous. This is a really good thing, because I get familiar with the feeling before I actually get on stage. When I’m finally in front of the audience, it’s like I’ve done it before.

Prepare for technical failure

The purpose of this is two-fold: it’ll ease your mind, and you’ll be able to finish your presentation no matter what. Try to do a test run where you don’t need any tech. Obviously it won’t be as good, especially if you’re showing videos or other key visuals, but at least it’ll ease your mind, and you’ll know that no matter what you’ll be able to get through the presentation.

If there’s no way to do the presentation without the help of technology, have a couple of stories in the back of your mind that you can tell while tech problems are being resolved. Steve Jobs would practice for weeks for a big presentation, and he was brilliant at the specific skill of telling stories if tech broke down.

Watch how he expertly handles a clicker not working by first acknowledging it, and then telling a story about him and Steve Wozniak.

You can have an impact

Big presentations are intimidating, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still have an impact. Presentations are an opportunity to make the world a better place and the process of preparation is a wonderful growing experience. As long as you give the audience the most value you possibly can, you’ll be just fine.

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