Self

The 10 Most Effective Ways To Prepare For Your Biggest Work Presentations

Photo: Jacob Lund / shutterstock.com
woman working from home on her presentation

When his company vice president requested a presentation to the executive team, William (not his real name) felt a familiar twinge of anxiety.

Because William was aware he used too many filler words, he worried he would not effectively influence his audience. In fact, he rated his own presentation skills a five out of 10, with a goal to be an eight. 

He believed learning presentation preparation secrets would help with how others perceived him as a presenter. To be sure, mastering presentation skills is one of the most basic ways to enhance your executive presence.

But William wasn't preparing for his presentations the right way. He was even starting in the wrong place. 

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For any presentation, preparation is critical

I asked William how he would typically prepare for a presentation.

“Usually, I’ll just take an old slide deck and start replacing the old information on the slides with new content,” he said. “Then I pull it all together and present it.”

“And how do you feel about how well it lands with the audience?” I wondered.

“I hadn’t thought about it much but I would say it’s hit or miss,” William admitted. 

Opening PowerPoint, Keynote or Google Slides is not the best point to start your presentation preparation. Like most of my clients looking for communication help, William was willing to take a few extra steps to create a presentation that is more likely to be a hit than a miss.

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Ten ways to prepare a better work presentation (and not bore your audience!)

1. Know your audience

The first and most important step is to clarify to whom you’re speaking. If it’s to your colleagues, you can use some of the jargon and acronyms you use with your colleagues.

If it’s the Executive team, they won’t know what you’re talking about. Keep it simple and high-level. The people in the executive suite don’t need all the details. They need to know you’re the expert that has them.

2. Know your objective and your ask 

Why are you presenting? Is your purpose for being there to inform? To persuade? To teach? Or, is it meant to inspire or entertain? Being clear on your objective will make it easier for the audience to understand. If there is an ask, state it near the front as part of your objective statement.

For example, “I’m here today to inform you about the three options our team has developed to enhance employee engagement. I’d like your feedback on the one you believe will be the most practical to adopt for our next quarter.”

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3. Know why they should care

You're not ready to make your presentation if you can't answer the question, Why should they care? You are clear on your purpose and to whom you will speak but have you considered whether they need or want to hear what you have to say? If you were in the audience, what would you want or need to hear for the presentation to have been worth your time?

4. Make a connection using organizational values

If your goal is to pitch an idea to the executive team, make the connection with your organization’s Mission, Vision and Values to justify your pitch.

5. Keep slides short 

Don’t try to cram your whole thinking process onto your slides. Less is more when it comes to slide content.  

6. Next, engage your audience early

Have you thought of a comment or question in your opening line to break the ice?

7. Say it, say it, and say it again

It’s commonly stated you need to see an ad seven times before it sinks in. Never assume each audience member took in everything you said. It’s worth rephrasing or restating important items you need to get across and then briefly summarizing what your presentation was about at the end.

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8. Another tip is to try storytelling

People remember stories. If, for example, you’re communicating your engagement strategy, think of a real person who is impacted by it. “Fred works in our IT department. He told me the lack of communication from upper management makes him feel disengaged. Once we implemented the new communication strategy, Fred said he now feels like he is part of the team.”

9. Next, watch for filler words and phrases

Like William, be aware of filler words and speech habits like, “umm” and “uhh.” Record a few minutes of your presentation, play it back and count the filler words. Try again, with the goal of reducing them by 50 percent. Then, try it again, and reduce it further.

10. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse 

What may sound brilliant in your head may sound less impactful when it hits the lips. The time to discover that is in the privacy of your office, not in the boardroom when you present. Practice your presentation out loud with slides at least three times before you present. In the first run-through, make edits to phrases that sound awkward.

The second time, focus on pacing your timing. Then, make further edits if necessary. The third run should give you the sense of confidence to know that you're ready to present.

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William meets his goal

William immediately went to work on mastering these tips. He nailed his next presentation and within just four coaching sessions, William met his goal of rating his presentation skills as an eight out of 10 from a five. 

Because he learned these presentation preparation secrets, he was much better with filler words and pacing and felt generally less nervous.

“Now I rarely feel I'm losing the audience and I’m getting more comfortable, which is what I wanted,” he recounted.

Furthermore, the extra confidence he conveyed in his presentations quickly impacted his executive presence: 

“I’ve really been improving," he told me. "It’s easier for me and my leaders are noticing.” 

Like William discovered, spending more time learning and applying presentation preparation secrets can give you the edge you need to nail your next presentation.

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Brent Roy, PCC, CMC, is a certified career, communications effectiveness and personal development coach. More information is available on his website

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