Secret #3 of star presenters: @NakedPresenting on preparing

Woman's FeetAsk yourself, honestly: How long will you spend preparing your next presentation? It can be a long process of course. Yet, it’s likely you’ll often get distracted by your other work and not get to spend the time your talk needs. Or your slides may become so vital to your talk – or so detailed – that you spend nearly all your available prep time grooming them.

So with that in mind, consider this quote from Emma Sutton (@NakedPresenting on Twitter), who’s a presentation coach and blogger in the UK:

“Spend 80% of your preparation
working out what to say.”

That puts well-deserved emphasis on your message itself, rather than on the slides you use just to support it. I’d say it’s roughly the opposite of what most people do though. So (if you’re like most presenters) you’ll likely spend around 80% (or more) of your time on your slides – repurposing, writing, editing, and formatting. But doing that makes your slides in effect the most important part of your talk, which they really don’t deserve.

Why don’t they? Well, if your slides are so important, why are you standing there talking about them? Surely you could just send them to people and not bother presenting at all.

By you narrating your slides, you make it harder for your audience to focus on your visuals. And equally, your slides make it harder for people to focus on you.

Instead, to avoid splitting people’s attention, I recommend you put very little on your slides. That way, your audience can look at each slide for just about 3-5 seconds and then return their attention to you. To complete the effect, whenever you show a new slide, stay silent for a few seconds while people absorb it.

If you make and use your slides that way, you should need less time to prepare them, because they’ve so little content. That frees your time to more clearly work out what you’ll say, and to rehearse your talk several times – so you can iron out the rough spots before you face your audience!

Please then, do as Emma suggests: Aim to spend 80% of your preparation time on crafting and rehearsing your message, and only 20% on your slides.

Over to you

  • How much of your prep time do you spend working out your message itself?
  • And what proportion do you spend expressing that message on your slides?
  • Please let me know in the comment box below.

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4 thoughts on “Secret #3 of star presenters: @NakedPresenting on preparing

  1. I find that the practice time is crucial in honing my message, as Vivien says [below]. I get a general idea then go out and walk whilst rehearsing what I might say.
    I quite often get new insights and ideas to add to my rough ideas whilst walking, and talking it through out loud or in my head helps me find the flow in the structure, or discover which bits I am stumbling over….
    As mentioned in the tweet, I don’t prepare any slides or resources until I am happy with the flow, the ideas and the core message, or it’s just time wasted.
    Too many people open up their computer when asked to present BEFORE they’ve even considered what they are going to say.

    • Thanks for adding to the conversation Emma.

      Going “unplugged” like you describe is a refreshing approach. I’m sure most people would be more thoughful and creative if they “detached from the digital” and focused on the core purpose of their talk, instead of getting wrapped up in the slides (which should just illustrate the points – if any – that lend themselves to a visual treatment).

  2. Hard to answer, seeing as most of my speeches don’t involve the use of slides. it is an interesting point another member brought up in a prior meeting; he noted a lot of people spend a great deal of time writing a speech, but not as much as they should practicing it.

    Nowadays I try to write a general outline, with the major points i want and what “evidence” (stories, facts, etc) to back up that point. I do most of my edits and changes while I am practicing; that is the best way to figure out what parts your speech will/will not work in front of an audience. 5-7 minutes may seem like a long time when you are writing your speech, but it can also fly by really fast!

    • Thanks for your comment Vivien, and those are fascinating insights into how you prepare.

      Maybe because my background’s in writing, when I prepare I tend to first write out what I’d like to say, then reduce it to a list of key words (one word per point) that I try to memorise.

      That method gives me an initial word count, so I can reliably tell how long a speech I’ve got. On the other hand though, it might make me more nervous, because basically I’m trying to recall what I wrote.

      I can identify with what your colleague said about people not spending enough time practising. In my case, I think that’s because I’m not yet at the stage of enjoying giving speeches, so I view rehearsal as being like homework!

      Mind you, I do tend to video my rehearsals, which I reckon makes them more effective. So I think you don’t need quite as many rehearsals when you video each one.

      I think I’ll try your method next time, as it sounds like a good way to know what to say but without fixating about the words. Thanks for the tips!

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