The old British army adage, “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance,” referred to military maneuvers but it applies to speaking just as well. Lack of preparation is the number one reason that speakers fail. On the other hand, good preparation can often compensate for a lack of natural talent. Knowing all aspects of your presentation inside and out will help you deal with anxiety and distractions.
First, you must know your material. Do your homework. Study and master your subject matter. Know your speech backwards and forwards. Make sure your information is accurate and up-to-date. When you are completely comfortable with your subject, your confidence in speaking about it will be projected to the audience.
Next, do some homework for extra credit. Who is your audience and how does your message apply to them? No one likes to sit through generic, one-speech-fits-all presentations. People want to hear information that has been personalized to their situation. Are you speaking to doctors or lawyers? How does your message apply to their professions? Speaking to accountants and brokers? How does your message affect the financial industry? Speaking to sales and marketing professionals? How can your message help them reach their goals? Even a little bit of prior research can help you tailor your message to your audience.
You can even try getting a little insider information on your specific audience. Get the names of several people who will be in your audience. Contact those people and ask for a few minutes of their time. Conduct pre-program interviews with them to learn how best to tailor your presentation. Understanding your audience and their unique challenges, worries, fears, and desires will prepare you to establish a rapport with them and strike their emotional chords.
You should also make sure you understand the venue and its parameters and limitations. Large room or small? Microphone or not? Projectors? Internet connections? In other words, avoid last minute logistical surprises that will throw you off course and prevent you from delivering a breakthrough performance.
Finally, rehearse your speech. And rehearse it again. Practice may not make you perfect, but it will make you better. And enough practice can make you great. You should rehearse your speech until you are completely comfortable delivering it from start to finish.
You usually don’t control who is in your audience, their willingness to listen, or their receptivity to your message. But you are in complete control how prepared you are when you speak to them. Preparation and practice are two of the most important elements of any presentation. If, at minimum, proper preparation prevents poor performance, then great preparation will produce breakthrough performances.