May 13, 2011

Is your presentation like shampoo?

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In group coaching last week, there was some dissent about having to do the same 3-minute presentation more than once.

The first time participants delivered the speech, they were videotaped and given a written critique. They had a week to revise and improve the presentation, then were videotaped and critiqued again, and that was the end of that speech. There is one other speech required, for fun, a 45-second acceptance speech the final week, the same length as those given at the Oscars.

After delivering the 3-minute presentation only once, a couple of group members felt that they were over it and wanted to move on to a new speech. They were bored with it already (and granted, were delivering to the same audience for a second time).

Here's my response to their complaint.

Most of us who speak on a regular basis do not give many different presentations. We are more likely to give one or two presentations over and over. Like old-timey shampoo instructions, we give a presentation, then "rinse and repeat."

Whether you are giving sales presentations on your product, speaking to community groups on heart disease, or training new employees on company policies, you are probably giving the same handful of presentations on a regular basis.

Do you get bored with those presentations? Maybe. Do you sometimes present the same material to some of the same audience members? Possibly. Should you give up on improving the presentation and settle into a comfortable rut? Never!

During my long career in nonprofits, I frequently gave the same presentations over and over. When I was a teen program coordinator for a domestic violence agency, in fact, I gave the same presentation to dozens of high school classrooms and thousands of students each year -- for six years. Some speakers might start to feel like they could do the presentation in their sleep -- and they would. But how is that good for your audience?

I would constantly tweak the presentation to make sure it was fresh and interesting. Based on work I was doing with our agency's clients, I was constantly adding new and better stories. Based on evaluations I received from the students, I was constantly refining the way I expressed my message. For six years, this presentation evolved, and by the time I left that organization, the presentation (and my program) was ten times better than it had been when I started.

These days, I still have a handful of presentations I give over and over. Although I'm regularly adding new offerings, the fact is, some of my presentations are standard issue and will be requested repeatedly.

It's my responsibility as a speaker to keep my material up to date, interesting to the audience (even if some of them have heard it before), and continually evolving. The minute I stop doing that, I get bored. And if I'm bored, my audience is bored. And then I've failed.

Look at repeat presentations as an opportunity to cultivate your skills as a presenter, to develop in your writing, your delivery, your ability to connect, and your stage presence. Repeat presentations can be challenging, but there is no reason you can't make them an avenue for growth.

If you want to be a successful speaker, you have no choice.

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