Got a presentation to deliver?
A business-critical meeting to prepare for?
Short on time?
People say that preparation is key, but...
If you have very little time available, how can you make best use of it?
When posing that question to executives I've coached over the years, typically they respond with:
"I wing it."
"I'm up all night, working late to get it done."
"I stand in a room and run it over and over until I've memorised it."
"I stress like h*ll and take beta blockers."
"I hammer out a script and then read it out."
"I put together a slide deck of bullet points which I then use as my crutch."
What if there were a better way to prepare?
Typically, people assume (mistakenly) that preparation means one of two things...
- Scripting (in Word or in Powerpoint)
- Rehearsing (e.g. in front of the bathroom mirror)
The problem is that both these activities take place in isolation. Hardly the best preparation for a live event that involves other people!
You might say 'Well, what about practicing in front of a group of colleagues?'
In my experience, this rarely happens. It's artificial, it's hard to coordinate the diaries, it feels a bit false and can also be brutal. I've yet to meet ANYONE who has enjoyed that experience.
So, what to do instead?
Have a conversation with someone.
Is that it?
In my experience, having a conversation with someone about your content is the most effective and time-efficient tool for preparing a reputation-critical presentation or meeting.
Yet it's very rarely used.
You might speak with a friend, a colleague or perhaps even a family member. The point is, you sit them down, buy them tea, coffee or lunch if you prefer (use Skype or book a meeting room if you must) and you invest 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes or more in talking things through.
DON'T regurgitate your presentation. Heaven forbid that you should recite your script. Instead, talk ABOUT it.
By doing so, you'll...
- Keep it natural
- Take the pressure off having to remember everything
- Gain clarity in your own mind, faster
- Identify new insights/distinctions to enrich your flow
- Gauge from the other person's reaction how clear you are
- Gain an insight into what a listener might be thinking about your content (and remember, it's all about your audience!)
- Save a whole lot of time
- Who knows, maybe even enjoy the experience
A conversational setting is far better suited, I suggest, for internalising your flow. Rather than trying to memorise every word, get as familiar as you can with the structure of your content. Working things through section by section with someone else is a great way to do that.
Specifically, I recommend the following...
- Allow 15-30 mins for the conversation
- Make sure the other person has a watch/stopwatch
- Have them give you 60 seconds (max) to outline what you want to achieve as a result of your presentation
- Speak for 60 seconds
- Get feedback from them on your 60 seconds - what worked, what stuck, what didn't?
- Incorporate the feedback
- Repeat the exercise
- Repeat as appropriate - 60 seconds for your first key point; 60 seconds for your second key point and so on
So, the next time you have a reputation-critical engagement coming up, tap a friend or colleague on the shoulder:
Fancy a chat?
You'll gain clarity, you'll save time and even have fun along the way...