Getting ready to present

I’ve got my first presentation on Wednesday.

It’s a work-related presentation to a group of my peers, most of whom I don’t know.

A few weeks ago, I was terrified at the thought of doing this. Now, not so much.

The presentation is all about how Technical Writers can offer their businesses much more than writing a help file, and uses my own recent experience with a project to demonstrate this. So, naturally to a non-presenter, talking about myself for forty minutes was incredibly daunting but I found ways to make this less so.

  1. I did quite a bit of reading. I thought the two books I read were both excellent and would be hard-pressed to recommend one over the other. These were Presentation skills for quivering wrecks by Bob Etherington, and The Presentation Coach: Bare Knuckle Brilliance For Every Presenter by Graham Davies.

    You need to give yourself some time to read these and follow the advice. I had a couple of months to prepare and that seemed a good amount of time.

  2. I kept telling myself I had nothing to worry about. One of the messages from these books is that most presentations are so unbelievingly bad, that you don’t actually have to do much to get to the level of a competent presenter. And that’s what I’ve focussed on: I’m not aiming to be the best presenter, but merely a competent one.
  3. I used a mind map to structure my thoughts. Freemind is a free and simple tool to use. With a mindmap in place, the actual writing process became very clear.
  4. As a writer, it was much easier for me to write a complete script of the presentation. At this stage, I wasn’t sure whether I was going to read the script verbatim (frowned upon in the books) or produce a set of note cards.
  5. I read the whole script out aloud. This is an important step in listening for clunky language. I found a fair bit of clunkiness so edited accordingly. During this read through I timed the whole thing. I was a bit surprised that it came to the required forty minutes.
  6. I prepared slides that supported the presentation. If you remember little else about making a good presentation, it’s that you, the speaker, are the presentation, not your powerpoint slides. My slides were drawings I’d made using an iPad app and would help illustrate what I was saying. There is no chance I could turn my back to the audience and read the powerpoint slides to them. There simply isn’t the information on them.

    Incidentally, I did use Google Docs to make the presentation and loved it. For me, it was a piece of cake to create the presentation using these. However, because I’m not confident the locations I’m presenting at are going to have web access for me, I’ve downloaded these as Powerpoint slides.

  7. I did a full run through with slides and script in front of my line-manager. I got a lot of good feedback and incorporated this as soon as I could.
  8. I recorded the script and put it onto my iPhone so I could listen to it a couple of times on the drive in to work. My hope was that familiarity with the material would help when it came to making note cards.
  9. Note cards – I was wanting to produce a set of note cards that I could use as prompts to drive the presentation. But, I struggled with this. It was taking too long, and I just didn’t feel comfortable. So, what I’ve done is a bit of a compromise. I’ve taken my script, and made the point size 18, so it’s very clear to read. I’ve underlined all important words to help my emphasis, and I’ve inserted breaks to pause and show slides. I’ve PDFed this and have it on adobe reader on my iPad. And this is how I’m going to present – with iPad in hand.

    I’ve practised a couple of times and it works really well. I’m not a slave to the script because I know it pretty well. There are few places where I read directly from the script at all, most of it is paraphrased, which is what I’d intended to do with note cards anyway.

    And it’s large enough that if I lose my place I can find it again easily. The manual breaks are great because they’re forcing me to slow down.

On the day, I’m hoping to get into the room for the presentation an hour early so I can practice again in the room I’m presenting in.
I’m surprisingly calm about the whole thing. I trust this is a good sign. 
By single take-away from this is that if you need to do a decent presentation, you need to give yourself time. I think I’ve spent maybe thirty hours on this so far (and finding this time when you’ve a young family and a busy job is a challenge all of its own).
I’ll report back and let you know how it went.
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