Elephant Post: How Do You Prepare for a Speaking Gig?

[Image (cc) cedartree_13]
As I sit here in a hotel room editing this post, and going over my notes for the four presentations I am giving at AALL this year, I realized that I'm taking to heart some of the perspectives we gather on this week's Elephant Post. There were many good suggestions on not just the logistics of getting prepared for a public speaking engagement, but also on how you psychologically prepare to give the presentations. Thanks to everyone that contributed, and don't forget that we do this every week, so skip on down below this week's perspectives and see if you can physically and psychologically answer next week's question on how things have changed in your job since the onset of The Great Recession.

Sarah Glassmeyer
Academic Law Librarian

It depends on what sort of presentation I'm doing...if it's a straight, "60 Tools in 60 minutes" type presentation where I'm demonstrating a service or explaining how to use something (and when I teach), I generally try to have that information down cold and write a script beforehand.  It starts with the slide preparation...I write out exactly what I want to say with each slide - including my lame jokes that sound off the cuff - and practice, practice, practice until I can go into autopilot with it.  That allows me - I hope, anyway - to then concentrate on the presentation style when I am speaking so that it's interesting for the audience.  On the other hand, if it's more a "discussion" like a podcast or panel - basically me spouting my opinions about something - then I write a rough outline of the points I want to hit, but how I get from point A to point B I leave up to the last minute and ad lib it.   I think of it like playing jazz, in a way.   I don't mind speaking publicly, but I always try to coffee up so I have a little more bounce and personality.  Unfortunately, this has the negative result of me speaking 1000 words per minute (and I'm a pretty fast talker anyway.)  So I constantly have to remind myself to slow down and enunciate.

Steven B. Levy
Author of Legal Project Management
Author, speaker, consultant

First I get as clear as I can on what I want to communicate, what combination of information, mindset, and action plans I want the audience to come away with, based on the organizers' goals. Next I try and understand where the audience is coming from, their starting points and likely biases.* Now I can put together an outline sketching how to get from B to A, based on what I've learned and what I'm capable of doing effectively. That outline may be on a whiteboard, in OneNote, in PowerPoint, or in some combination of the three.   From that outline, I can build my slides (which are usually graphics/images that bolster the points I'm making, with few or no words), while at the same time visualizing the presentation as if there were no slides. Over time, I refine, practice (often aloud), and modify until I have something I think will be coherent, entertaining, and achieve both my goals and the organizers' goals.  ------- *In an ideal world I'd figure out the audience's starting point first. The reality is that I often don't have sufficient information on that starting point early enough in the process. I speak regularly -- e.g., keynotes -- and I believe I owe it to audiences and hosts to prepare thoroughly and well in advance.

John Gillies
KM lawyer

I try to do three things. First, I constantly ask myself whether what I'll be talking will actually be useful (however much I might be tempted to tell "fascinating" war stories that really are only of interest to me). Second (and it's related), I focus on paring away the extraneous content.  Last, I try only to do visual presentations that are useful. I hate PowerPoint presentations that are really nothing more than a formal paper converted to bullet points. I recently used Prezi (http://prezi.com/) and found that it offered an interesting alternative because it allows you to move back and forth and around your content (after coping with the learning curve on another new tool, of course!)

Online Marketing

I read a lot. Every day, I have tons of newsletters. Whenever I see anything interesting, I save it in a folder system that is based on topics. This is especially helpful when I need examples or stats.  Then, if I am partnering with someone, we usually meet at least once to set up the outline. Usually, one of us has made a first pass. Then we fill it out and start breaking out assigned speakers, understanding that we can jump into each other's topic at any time. But this way, we have a clear road map during the presentation and no one person is hogging the floor (I won't mention any names here ;) )  Lastly, for the powerpoint presentation, I like to spend a lot of time on this. But I like pretty pictures and decorating. I don't use the powerpoint to give a blow-by-blow guideline of my speech. Instead, I treat them as backdrops to highlight my point. I love creative, beautiful art so I treat to bring that into my presentations.  Then, I relax and enjoy myself. I know I gotta sing for my supper so I better be, at the least, mildly entertaining!

Ayelette Robinson
Knowledge Management

Much of my process is similar to what others have noted above, so I won't repeat those aspects.  What I'll add, or elaborate on, is how I figure out how to frame my presentation in the first place. This is usually the most difficult part for me because once I have the framework, the content almost completes itself. So identifying and setting that framework is both the most challenging, but also the most useful, part of the preparation process for me.  My first step (and I'm echoing Steve here) is to try to figure out what the audience will hope to get from the session. Since I can't poll the audience ahead of time, I look at how the session is being marketed and imagine: (1) who would be attracted to attend this session? and (2) what kind of content would I be happy to walk away with if I were attending?  Once I have the answers to those questions, I take a hard look at my experience -- mentally walking through projects, interactions, my own professional aha moments, and the like -- and pick out those pieces that match the session's topic. Once I have those points and moments selected, I weed through them to make sure I'm not repeating points that I've heard many times before (and therefore can assume the audience has too), and I try to take a fresh look at them to see what might be a new perspective I can add.  This self-reflection can definitely be a challenging and time-consuming process, but my hope is that it makes my presentations better.

Next Elephant Post Question:
How Did "The Great Recession" Change the Way You Do Your Job?
I'm sure that many initial reactions will contain the phrase "do more with less," but I'm sure there are other ways that you've changed the way you conduct work because of the changes that occurred after the markets collapsed in 2008. Share your perspective of some of the ways your job or profession has changed, and if you think that the changes are permanent or temporary. As always we try to make this easy on you, so just go ahead and fill out the embedded form below!

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