December 10, 2007

Prepared vs. over-prepared

Cam Beck asked me this question the other day in response to my post about your worst public speaking fear coming true:

"So how do you know the difference between preparing and over-preparing?"

First of all, here's what it looks like to be unprepared. I've also written several posts about how I and others prepare.

I've read lots of articles that say you can never be too prepared, or that it's better to over-prepare. I disagree.

You're prepared when:

1. You feel confident about your topic

2. You've anticipated several of the most likely questions and know how to answer them, and you know you can follow up later if there's anything you can't answer

3. You know exactly how you're going to open and close your talk

4. You have bulleted or outlined notes that are concise (two pages, max), clear and easy to follow

5. You have given yourself ample time for practicing (at least two weeks, for content and structure to sink in), but you are not memorizing your talk

6. You've got a plan B for possible mishaps with your computer, props, handouts, flip chart, etc.

7. You've gathered all necessary materials and tools for your presentation

8. You've visualized yourself giving a successful presentation where the audience walks away feeling like they've received great value and they're motivated to do something

9. You sleep well the night before your presentation, knowing you've done all you can do

10. You've done some deep breathing, relaxation and stretching exercises to warm up your body and voice

You're over-prepared when:

1. You've written out and memorized your entire presentation word for word, all fourteen pages of it

2. You've anticipated every possible question anyone could ever ask, and you're still afraid that you won't have the answer for everything

3. You've rehearsed a gesture, facial expression and movement for each moment of the presentation so there is no risk of spontaneity breaking out

4. You've created an encyclopedic and minutely detailed presentation of the topic instead of two or three main points

5. Your PowerPoint is dense with thick paragraphs, tiny text, bullets, charts, and graphs to make sure you haven't left anything out

6. Hours before the presentation, you're still rewriting and reorganizing your talk, under pressure because you want it to be "perfect"

What else can you add to these lists?

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6 comments. Please add yours! :

Cam Beck said...

Lisa - Thank you so much for publishing this list.

I was actually worried about being too prepared for a presentation I had to give today, but upon reading this, I realize I had no reason to be.

I ended up just about memorizing the opening and closings (not quite word-for-word, but close) and transition points.

I didn't finish the slides until last night... but I was pretty close about two weeks ago. From that, I rehearsed 4-5 times, paying special attention to problem areas that made the flow awkward.

9 and 10 were very valuable. My wife made me do 9, though, correctly pointing out I'll be less stressed about the presentation if I had a good night's rest before.

I know I ended up making a few mistakes that I wished I could have had back, but from reading your blog and taking your course, I knew that my audience wanted me to succeed.

I can't thank you enough for teaching me that.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Cam, I'm so glad your presentation went well! Realizing that your audience isn't secretly hoping you fail is a huge confidence boost - if you retrain your brain, that is, with some visualization and positive self-talk!

The good thing about making mistakes is that you survive. And coming out the other side by handling mishaps with grace and humor, you find that nothing really truly bad can happen while you're speaking.

Cam Beck said...

When I started doing the positive self-talk, I felt kind of strange. But I gave it the old college try, and I really think it worked. :)

Jacki Hollywood Brown said...

You know you're prepared when you feel comfortable and relaxed when you hit the stage.
You know you've over prepared when you haven't slept in 3 days thinking about making everything perfect.


Lisa Braithwaite said...

Jacki, I would also say that, along with being comfortable and relaxed, I'm excited and fired up when I hit the stage! Not so when I'm under- or over-prepared!

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Cam, you've inspired me to add something about feeling strange doing positive self-talk to one of the videos in the new e-course. . .

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