Some presentations are so good that you can’t help but assume that person’s just a natural. They’d have to be, right? After all, presenting in front of an audience is a challenge for most people, yet there are those who make it seem like it’s the easiest thing in the world.
But you want to know the secret to that confidence? Preparation! No matter how effortless your favorite speakers make it seem, every one of them were meticulous about creating their slides, jotting down thorough speaker’s notes, and practicing the you-know-what out of it.
Want to impress the heck out of your client, your colleagues, or your boss the next time you have to present? Use the checklists below to stay on track and make sure you’re prepared.
Build Your Presentation
You might be reusing an old PowerPoint document. Or you might need to create one from scratch. Either way, spend time creating your slides in advance. Plan on spending an hour outlining the presentation, another hour prepping the speaking notes, and a third hour working on the design.
If that feels like a lot, let’s break it down:
Research the daylights out of your topic. If it’s a sales pitch, get the data you need to drive home the point. If it’s for a larger audience, back up your main talking points with research-based data. This might sound like a lot of work, but a good outline will make your life so much easier over the next few days.
The Speaking Notes
Here’s where you should figure out what types of speaking notes you need. Some people might need short reminders to reference during their talk. For those of you like me, you might need to write out your entire presentation. Neither is wrong—but here’s where you should figure it out for yourself.
Creating presentation slides are one of those things that seem harder than they really are. Even if you don’t have an eye for design you can still make it look cohesive by choosing a color scheme, using templates (such as these free ones from Google Drive), and keeping it simple.
Nail Down the Logistics
Do you have to book a conference room? Figure out the tech in the conference room? Dial people in? Do you know how long it should last? Should you leave time for questions?
Do yourself a favor and get answers to all these questions now.
Oh, and expert tip, book the room a day before, too so that you can practice in the real setting.
Pick Out Your Outfit
This might sound silly, but this will help you avoid a lot of stress on the day of your talk. It doesn’t have to be formal—especially if your office isn’t—but it should be something you feel confident in. The fewer choices you have to make that morning, the more you can focus on what’s important
Get Feedback on Your Slides
Reach out to a few of your most honest, trustworthy teammates and ask them for feedback on both your presentation itself and your presentation style.
Here are a few things you could (and should) ask for them to look for:
- How do these slides look?
- Does the information flow well?
- Are there any grammatical errors?
- Is it too long? Too short?
- Did I talk too fast?
- Is there a clear takeaway?
- My goal of this presentation is to get across [goal here]. How can I make that more clear?
Remember: This is a good opportunity to time yourself, practice exactly what you want to say, and even insert a little humor if you think it’s appropriate. With your colleagues in the room, you’ll get instant feedback on how you can expect your audience to respond.
Make Final Edits to Your Slides
From both a design and speaking perspective, you’ve gotten a good amount of feedback by now. While there’s still a good amount of work to do, take an editor’s pen to your slide deck and make final changes.
And when I say final, I mean final. The more you tweak your presentation, the more you’ll confuse yourself when it’s show time.
Practice Your Talk (Again)
This time, practice your talk under the exact circumstances you’ll be presenting it the next day. Is it a webinar-style call? Test your video conferencing software and iron out the technical kinks. Then, run through your deck.
If you’ve followed this checklist, you should have already booked your practice space. Take advantage of that and set up everything you need for the next day.
Give Yourself a Break
You might want to jump back into your normal tasks to catch up a bit. But don’t forget to give yourself some time to relax. Grab a coffee in the kitchen or take a walk around the block. Do something nice for yourself, even if you only have a few minutes. After all, you’ve put a lot of hard work into your presentation.
Read Through Your Speaker’s Notes One Last Time
You’ve done a lot of work to get to this day. Don’t overthink it, but give your speaker’s notes one last look-through before you present. If you’ve identified areas that you’ve tripped up on during your practice, so make additional notes wherever necessary.
Get to the Room Early
If it’s possible, get in there five minutes early to start setting up and making yourself feel comfortable.
Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself
Even the most manicured presentations have their hiccups. It could be a faulty internet connection. Or maybe a joke won’t land as you hoped it would. Try not to beat yourself up too much about these things, especially before they’ve happened. Trust me, it happens to even the most accomplished presenters.
I just outlined a lot, but the good news is that I’ve created this checklist to go along with it.
Let’s face it: Giving presentations is hard. But because you’ve prepared like crazy, you’ll be in a much better position to knock it out of the park. It might not go exactly to plan, but it won’t be because you didn’t do everything in your power to put everything in place for success. Plus, I’m willing to bet that you’ll be way harder on yourself than anyone who’s listening to you speak—especially since you’ve done all this work to get ready.
Photo of person writing in meeting courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy or follow his blog.More from this Author