The three golden rules of formal presentations:
1-practice, practice, practice
3- get feedback
Today’s post deals with Golden Rule #1:
1-practice, practice, practice.
Ideally, practice to an audience—a house mate, friend, colleague–anyone who is willing. If it makes you nervous to practice in front of real person, that is good! Get the nervous out when the stakes are low; the stakes will be much higher on the day of the real presentation.
If practicing in front of others is just not how you operate, then practice alone in front of a mirror or computer monitor. You should be able to present without having to refer to notes more than 3 times total.
Do not read out loud. It is not okay to read aloud—regardless of the kind of presentation. I know professors do this all the time: read lecture notes out loud to you. They are not operating in the professional work place. The ivory tower is called the ivory tower for a reason—it isolates. It is different than the world outside its walls. Outside its walls, it is not okay to read out loud to anyone over the age of 10 (unless you are a best-selling author—then read away!)
Think about a time that you have been an audience member at a presentation and the presenter read out loud to you from a paper. Don’t you think, “you could have emailed me that as an attachment and I could have read it in a fraction of the time!”? In the academic context, that’s the equivalent of using class time to do round-robin reading from the textbook.
Even worse is the PowerPoint equivalent: handouts are distributed, then the same slides are displayed on the big screen at the front of the room. The presenter proceeds to…read aloud from the slides—the very same slides you have copies of in your hands—the handout you have probably already read to yourself in its entirety while you were waiting for their author to start reading them out loud to you!
When have you practiced enough? You have practiced enough when you can present with some level of naturalness and spontaneity. You want to sound like the expert who knows this information so well that you are relaxed and enjoy talking about it to others. It should look like it’s the most natural thing in the world (because you’ve practiced making it feel natural). See great advice from communication coach Carmine Gallo here.
Warning! You have practiced too much if you just recite a memorized script (that’s really the same thing as reading out loud). Aim for the perfect middle ground.
P.S. A rule of thumb for PowerPoint: allow at least 2 minutes for every slide. A 10 minute presentation should only include 5 slides. If you have 50 slides, they you better hope that there’s a 90 minute presentation slot!
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