Public speaking can be hard, even when it is just a small group. Some people never get over stage fright. Some of us can just wing it and others read from a script.
There are some tips and tricks you can use to help you give a presentation well no matter where you are on the spectrum. This article isn’t going to be about dealing with the jitters, though this process will greatly reduce the effects of nervousness. I’ve seen very talented speakers follow some of these same steps to prepare because they still had stage fright.
You may have seen people start to ramble, stutter, trail off, or just plain get lost during a presentation. You may have also seen good presentations that just lacked in the delivery department. I think this process will help with that even if it can’t get rid of the nerves.
I like to just start a google doc. This isn’t anything formal I just make main headings of ideas I come up with and then add sentences or paragraphs to expand. The benefit of doing this is that I can come back to it when I feel inspired and I don’t have to “grind it out”. Even when I have to grind it out I use this method because it’s effective. Don’t worry about making anything specific, treat this like notes. You can delete, add, remove, etc. When you’re pretty happy with your list then you’re done brainstorming.
Transition to slides
There’s no real good way to explain this because the notes can be so different. It should be natural with the way we used headings to make key points brainstorming. Short impactful things go in the doc and the rest can be moved to speaker notes or removed. In some cases just having written them in brainstorming is enough for queues with the other speaker notes.
Just work these around until you get as much of the content as you can in the slides somehow. Don’t worry about being very structured yet. Just get the content in there until it starts to take form. The point here isn’t to complete the slides but to make a decent framework from your notes.
Talk through slides
Now we start making the actual slide deck. Likely what you’ve got now is scattered notes, maybe some partial slides, and maybe even some placeholder slides. Now start actually talking through the slides one at a time as if you are trying to give the presentation. Talking out loud is really helpful here. Don’t worry about any theme here just focus on finishing the content itself.
As you find spots where you aren’t sure what to say or have trouble saying something then add speaker notes and start over on that slide talking out loud. If you have trouble with what to say then try a bunch of different ways to talk about something from your notes and see which one you like. Start over and try it again with that new addition. This is taking us from notes and brainstorming to fleshing out the presentation and making real slides.
Spend time on a slide by itself to just get the content in there. As soon as you have a very firm idea of what you want the slides to say you can start finalizing. It doesn’t have to be so complete that you can run through it all the way with no mistakes yet.
Finalize the slides
This is where you make the presentation portion. You’ll have done some of that in the last step but now we want to work on delivery. Go back through the slide deck with delivery and theme in mind. Some presentations may get gifs here, transitions, or you may be thinking of a funny delivery. Put that style in now.
Do a practice run of the full presentation
The final step is to do a full presentation. Out loud. To yourself.
It’s okay if there are some edits. There should have been enough combing through the slides building the presentation that there shouldn’t be a lot and the edits shouldn’t really be serious. If you find yourself doing heavy edits at this point you should revisit the content building.
Do a practice run with friends
Find someone who’s not the target audience to do the presentation for. This presentation is mostly to practice in front of people so whoever you are comfortable with. This may or may not be a hard process for you. If you have severe nerves then just present to one person, but if you can tolerate it 2–3 is a good number.
Do this until you remember your presentation. You might have to get a couple different groups if you end up doing it several times. There’s no wrong answer here, just do it until you feel natural with the speaking queues you make for yourself. This will ensure that if you get nervous or lost during your presentation you don’t have trouble regaining your place. It will also ensure that you will most likely be able to keep going if you are very nervous.
Do a practice run with sample users
I find 2–3 is always a good number for feedback groups but find at least one person that is in the target user group of your presentation. This can seem odd if you’ve never done it before and may feel like you’re going to lessen the impact of the presentation somehow. Don’t worry that won’t happen! You’ll find most people are happy to help.
By this time your presentation should feel natural. Tell the audience up front that this is a draft run and that you’re looking for feedback. Take notes on all the feedback, and have a discussion for clarity. It’s important not to get carried away defending your creation or thoughts and just accept the feedback.
Hopefully this isn’t a major rework. As you do more presentations there will likely be very little more than speaker notes added and the occasional extra slide.
Deliver the presentation
Once you’ve incorporated what you can from the draft runs you may or may not want to do another trail run on your own. You won’t be changing major portions of the presentation so you may just decide you’re comfortable enough to go right to it. I almost always give one last demonstration to myself out loud.