The art of presentation: the dangers of being over-prepared

I have often written about the need to prepare for an effective presentation. It is a mantra I urge every professional stepping up to the podium to adopt. However, in this article I am going to consider the disadvantages of being too prepared.

I stand by the need to be prepared – always – but there is a great deal to be said for not being ‘scripted’. By this I mean the process of diligently putting the work in to a presentation only to deliver it, verbatim, often reading large sections from the page (because you’ve done the prep so it’s all there).

On one level you have achieved your goal. On another level you have failed. Why? Because your scripted presentation lacks the oomph that’s needed to engage your audience. It’s one dimensional and lacking in an essential ingredient – a bit of edge.

What do I mean by edge? In a nutshell; a flash of charisma, a little pinch of spontaneity and an endearing glimpse of personality. While this combination may sound like a recipe lifted straight from a Mary Poppins musical number, it serves to illustrate what is lacking in an effective presentation laid out on the page – a bit of you.

Public speaking can be a terrifying process, but it gets easier the more you do it. To this I will also add that the more you do it, the more you need to test yourself in order to train your speaking style and optimise your impact. By nature most of us are happy to seek out our comfort zone and refrain from stepping too far outside it.

Yet the human body is well equipped for dealing with the stresses of a shock to the system. We have all been in situations of stress and rather than meltdown, some kind of super sense kicks in and we rise to a challenge with a calmness and clarity that we did not know we were capable of.

Consider leaving your comfort zone, with giant leaps or baby steps, and bring a bit of edge into your game. It will probably scare the living daylights out of you at first, but I promise you a rich sense of achievement as a result. Here are some suggestions to help you find that extra bit of edge.

Ditch the Presentation for Cue Cards

Reading from a page while displaying the exact same presentation on a Powerpoint slide is inexcusable.  Pick out key points and bullet them on cue cards – small enough to fit in your hands.

Trust your Knowledge

If you have been commissioned to do a presentation it is because you know your stuff.  If you have done the prep have the confidence in your knowledge and use your cue cards to talk around the topic.

Trust Your Audience and Know This:

a) They don’t willingly want you to fail.
b) They want to be engaged.
c) A number of them will be wishing they had the confidence to do what you’re doing.

Don’t Forget to Engage Your Audience

Use your body language to good effect. Make eye contact with the room and use gestures to emphasise or punctuate points and draw inspiration from personal experience.

Be Afraid (but enjoy it!)

Having the confidence to cut the safety rope and throw caution to the wind requires a large leap of faith, but you only need to do it once. It’ll most likely be far less painful than you thought, and the rewards for overcoming such an obstacle are huge in terms of your skills to be an effective presenter.

Luan de Burgh is a professional public speaker and presentation coach.

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