May 4, 2009

Lessons from a bad presentation



A client told me about a presentation he gave recently that was terrible. His client had shown up an hour and a half earlier than planned, and he hadn't had time yet to go over the material, a presentation book he uses that had recently been rearranged and redesigned. He felt lost, couldn't follow the layout of the book, and stumbled through the best he could.

I wrote about two presentations I gave in the past two years that I didn't feel were up to my standards. One was a speaking engagement that I probably never should have taken in the first place; the other was an engagement where I was just "off" for some reason that day.

But there is a common theme between all three of the above mentioned presentations: Preparation. Or more correctly, lack of preparation.

Had my client looked over the presentation book when it was produced, instead of his usual plan of looking at it half an hour before the meeting, he would already have been familiar with the new layout.

Had I not tried to include so much new material into a presentation when I didn't have the time to practice it, my presentation last June would have gone much smoother.

Even the one two years ago, where I just felt "off," would have benefited from more practice, especially practicing the new material I had added.

I preach preparation all the time. It's the lack of this one key ingredient that keeps speakers from moving forward successfully. Rushing to put together a presentation days before it's due; creating the presentation in PowerPoint, then using the PowerPoint as your notes because you don't "have time" to practice; or worse, having your boss order you to give a presentation when you haven't even looked at the material... these are all paths to failure. Or if not failure, mediocrity.

And yet, even though preparation is my mantra, there have been times when I wasn't properly prepared, and my workshops suffered.

What's done is done, and we can't go back and repair what went wrong, but we can learn from it.

When you give a presentation that's just so-so (and you know it when it happens!) don't forget to analyze what happened. I don't mean that you should dwell on the mistakes and feel sorry for yourself, although I've done that before.

I mean that you should look at your method of preparation to see where you might improve next time, because I guarantee that your preparation was not thorough enough.

You need to make a change. You need to commit to thorough preparation. You need to give yourself enough time to think it all through, construct it well, practice it completely and really be ready when it's time to present.

If you want to get to the next level and you're always throwing together your presentations at the last minute, forget it. It's not going to happen.

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6 comments. Please add yours! :

Dr. Wright said...

That is cool, that even on a contest you need speaking skills!
Dr. Letitia Wright
The Wright Place TV Show
http://wrightplacetv.com
www.twitter.com/drwright1

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Can't imagine a time or place when I don't need speaking skills!

Leisa Watkins said...

A presentation I did several years ago still haunts me. It was a workshop and I was teaching people how to make something, and it was a project that was very, very detailed and difficult.

First of all, I didn't feel as prepared as I usually was.

I was having an allergic reaction and was SERIOUSLY beginning to wonder if I would literally survive that workshop, but afraid to take anything because it would make me to groggy to function.

They put my students in two different rooms so I had to go back and forth repeating everything. I kept wondering if I had forgot to tell one group something. According to feedback I did.

And a marble table top fell off, scattering my supplies, and hitting my leg. I was in so much pain that I wanted to roll around on the floor and cry out in agony. Instead, I just tried to smile and gain my composure.

All of this at an major event I really wanted to ace the presentation at.

Some students complained, but considering the circumstances it could have been much worse. Other students were amazed that I pulled-off the presentation I did. If only they could all experience my usual workshops.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Ugh. There's always that one presentation that sticks in our minds, isn't there? We can't go back in time and redo it; we just have to move on!

Re: allergies. I have a prescription med that I take that doesn't make me drowsy, and even if I don't think I need it, I always take it before a presentation, just in case something triggers my allergies!

Jean said...

Presentation/communicating is my focus for 2009 - I am trying to nail it. Preparation makes a huge difference for me, but I hate it! And it seems to take so much time? How long does it take to prepare? I feel like it takes me two hours to practice a 30-45 minute presentation, AFTER I've written it. How long does it take everyone else?

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Jean, some people will tell you to practice x number of hours for every hour of your presentation. I don't believe that there's a formula that works for everyone, however, but yes, you have to put in the time, even though it's not as much fun as standing in front of a real audience!

For a typical one-hour presentation, I will probably spend about 6-8 hours practicing. I break it up over a week or two, practicing every other day or leaving two days between practices to let the material sink in.

It's especially important to practice with any props and equipment, and it's especially important to get your opening and closing down cold.

It takes time, but it's worth it to make sure you're giving the best value to your audience.

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