March 19, 2010

Don't overwork your presentation

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If you've never made a pie, you might not know this, but overworking the dough for the crust makes a tough chewy texture rather than the light flaky texture we all prefer. If you overmix the dough when you're making, say, scones, the same thing happens. Hard, dense, chewy scones instead of light, fluffy treats.

Overdoing it isn't just a problem with dough. Overcook a piece of fish and the proteins seize up, making your fish rubbery, not flaky.

Overdo your exercise routine and you end up too sore to go to the gym for days.

Overdo the celebration at a party and you will feel pretty crummy the next day, whether from too much alcohol or too much food!

Which brings me back to overworking, and a problem that is the opposite of what I typically see with speakers.

The typical speaker I see is a procrastinator who throws the presentation together at the last minute. The "overworker," on the other hand, nitpicks it for months. He writes and rewrites, adjusting a few details each time. He practices every single day, several times a day.

What? This isn't a good thing? "But Lisa," you say, "I thought preparation was the holy grail of successful public speaking!"

Here's the thing: You don't really know how any presentation is going to work until you get in front of an audience. And each audience is different. So at some point you just have to let go and trust that your presentation is all it can be and will come to life when you deliver it. Practice in front of a friend, coworker or spouse and get feedback, but then you just have to let go.

Let it percolate in your brain for a few days here and there without practicing it at all. Don't even look at it for a week. Then come back with fresh eyes.

Your presentation should be done at least a full day before you deliver it. Don't change things at the last minute. You won't feel prepared; you won't have worked on the new material and you may find yourself feeling lost or not connecting with your content.

Just like pie crust, your presentation should be worked on "just enough." What is "enough" will have to be determined by you. But practicing every single day for three months is just going to make you crazy. You will never feel ready.

Lightly mix the ingredients. Gently fold them together. Then put your crust in the oven and let it bake (that's your brain, in case the analogy isn't clear).

Walk away. And when you deliver it to the audience, it will be fresh, it will be tasty, and from that experience you will learn what you need to do better for next time.

For more on preparation, read:

What's your excuse for not being prepared?

Prepared vs. over-prepared

Get plenty of sleep before your presentation

Can you be prepared and still be spontaneous?

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