Preparing and Giving a Presentation

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Tony Boobier
by Tony Boobier

In a few weeks’ time I will be making a presentation to a group in Leeds, albeit that it won’t really be in Leeds but from the relative comfort of my own study down here in the SE of England. Although I have made what seems like hundreds of presentations over the years, I have seldom given the same one twice and almost everything I do is customised either for the audience or the location. It follows therefore that some understanding of either, or both, is critical.

I thought I would share my approach as to how to prepare a presentation. Perhaps you might find it interesting, and it might give you some ideas if you are doing this personally.

One of the first considerations is to decide whether I have something useful to say, and if the audience will gain some benefit from it. It doesn’t always follow that this will be the case, and sometimes I turn down invitations simply because it’s not a good ‘fit’ between the event and my insights.

If I have something to say, then I prefer to start thinking about what that is as soon as possible. That means that some weeks before the presentation I start to think about content and how it will be ‘framed’. That means, how to create some sort of storyboard which provides a narrative which flows. The process often initially comes in the form of a ‘brain dump’, as I put ideas on paper which hopefully make sense and are relevant. After a few visits to my laptop, it starts to take shape but no better shape than a sculptor who has started on his or her next ‘masterpiece’ by throwing a lump of soft clay onto their turntable.

Then put the draft down, leave it to ‘brew’, and cogitate more ideas. Fine tune again, print it off, and then put it into your pocket and bring it for a walk either around the park or somewhere in the Kent countryside. As you go over it in your head while you are walking, it’s amazing what you think of. Sit on a bench or lean against a fence, and make further adjustments.

Ensuring that it is the right length and has the right content is important too. I’ve seen too many presenters crush too much content into too short a timeframe, and not being able to get through their message.

By now, you are beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the finished item, but it has to be checked to make sure the words flow and there are no tongue-twisters. Sometimes I stand in front of a mirror and do a ‘dress rehearsal’ to see how the slides and content flows.

Although many presentations are on PowerPoint, which seems to be the default software, I sometimes get invited to talk at a lunchtime or breakfast meeting, usually in my capacity as a writer. There are seldom screens to project onto, so the presentation (or more likely a short talk of 20 or 30 mins) will be supported by a handful of cards which contain key words as a memory jogger. One trick is to put a treasury tag through the corner of the cards, so that you aren’t in trouble if you drop them. A tag is helpful when you turn them over as well.

And then, the day comes. I always get a little nervous regardless of the size of the audience. so it’s important to be settled. Don’t drink too much coffee beforehand and certainly nothing alcoholic, or you will sound like a gibbering idiot. Despite all these years of presentations, I also have a small personal ritual (which I won’t share), but it gets me ready to ‘do the job at hand.

But then, you start the presentation. It’s a little like jumping off the top diving board at the swimming pool. Once you commit yourself, then there’s no turning back. It’s important to remember that you are talking to individuals, so eye contact is important. I am also a big fan of visual gimmicks if they fit into the story. Once I was invited to talk about the future of Fintech and I brought along an Aladdin’s Lamp, to see if the Genie inside had any insights. All a bit of nonsense, all a bit of fun when appropriate.

Hopefully an interesting Q & A session to follow, which is one of the hardest parts as you can’t really control any of the questions. Media training often helps in fielding some of the more tricky ones. And afterwards, a few words with the organisers to check that it was ok in terms of content and the rest. And that’s it.

Tony Boobier