What does it take to present successfully on-stage?
Many people assume that you must have special gifts or talents to be able to hold the attention of a room, and aptitude definitely comes into the picture, but nothing is as important as prior preparation.
In fact, one of the secrets of top professional speakers is that they tend to have put in many hours of preparation, even for just one hour on the stage. There’s much more to it than memorizing a presentation – it’s about understanding the audience, the context within which they operate, and the little nuances that take your presentation from “just like any other” to “she gets me!”
That said, how do professional speakers prepare for a successful presentation? Let’s take a look:
Every speaker has their own preferences for gathering material that they can use in presentations. For most professional speakers, this is something that they do as an automatic part of their daily processes. There is all manner of experiences or stories that, even if you can’t use them in an upcoming talk, might be useful filed away for another time.
The important thing is to have a good system, so that you’re able to recall those tidbits whenever you need them. How do you file good speaking material? Perhaps you file them under headings related to the key point, for example “managing change” or “setting goals.” The types of material you might gather include:
- Stories or anecdotes that evoked an emotion in you. Maybe it made you laugh or cry, or it was simply something interesting that made you pay attention.
- Your own experiences. When you review various chapters of your own life, what experiences or situations can serve as lessons for others? What insights can you impart from successes, failures, high, or low points?
When you’re in the build-up to your next presentation, it can also be useful to keep a journal or notebook, so that you can easily jot down thoughts as they occur to you. You never know where or when inspiration can strike!
Top professional speakers have a system for gathering and recalling speaking material Click To Tweet
Know your audience
Did you know that the average attention span of humans is around eight seconds? Generally speaking, depending on the source you look at, people argue that you have anywhere between five and fifteen seconds to grab the attention of your audience.
For a professional speaker, there is no “rule” about how you’re going to quickly engage the attention of your audience, but one key factor is to know that audience well. In understanding your audience, you can take your best shot at what will appeal to them.
The best professional speakers focus a lot of time on defining who it is that they’re speaking to and where their interests or needs lie. Your aim is to create a presentation that will really resonate with them and to hold their attention throughout.
Some things that you want to know about your audience include:
- Learning about current issues within the industry, particularly if speaking to companies. This allows you to include those issues in your presentation, or at least be able to acknowledge them so that the audience knows you’ve done your homework.
- Understand any changes the audience might be dealing with, or problems they might be managing. For example, what if you were hired to speak to an audience at a company where restructuring has been an issue?
- Learning about their goals, aspirations or dreams. How can you tap into the desires of your audience?
Research is the professional speaker’s best friend ahead of a gig. One of the best ways to go about it is to simply talk to people who fall within that target audience. You can pick up things like the language they use, their feelings on certain issues or topics, the level of information they need, and their motivations.
Understanding and using the language of your audience within your presentation can be a powerful way to hold their attention.
Gather and examine feedback
First of all, top professional speakers always gather feedback from their past events. These days, event organizers are commonly looking to maximize the value they get from speakers, so “speak and run” isn’t going to cut it.
Gathering feedback can also be a useful tool for booking more speaking gigs. It can be quite helpful to show audience feedback to event organizers. Those who book speakers are always looking for ROI!
As far as preparing ahead for your speaking appointments, your feedback can be useful to help guide your presentation, particularly if you’re speaking to a similar audience. Look back at what people liked or didn’t like, aim to improve on what you can, and give people more of what they enjoyed.
Understand what the aim is
One very important point when it comes to preparing for a presentation is to understand what the person or company who booked you is hoping to get out of it. Companies are often booking speakers with specific business goals in mind, so it’s important that you understand what these are and allow them to shape your presentation.
Consider questions like:
- Why have they asked me in particular to speak?
- What is the purpose of the event overall?
- What goals does the organizer have for the event?
- What would they like their audience to take away?
- How can you deliver content for which they’ll be able to get measurable results?
Your ability to keep booking further speaking engagements will hinge greatly on how well you are able to deliver value and meet client expectations. This always begins with good preparation – you’ve got to have a clear picture of those expectations in order to deliver.
Practice your presentation
“Let’s just wing it,” said no professional speaker ever! (At least, none that we have spoken with!). The best professional speakers do have some natural ability, but their real secret is in their preparation and the practice they put in ahead of time.
The best practice tends to be either on other people, or at the very least, out loud while you pretend to “work the room.” Speaking as you would on stage helps to engage that memory and imprint it, so that you can present a polished performance.
Another important thing about practicing is that you can discover areas of your presentation which don’t quite flow or come across as you intended. Take the opportunity to polish them ahead of time!
Practice on your friends!
The best professional speakers don’t simply whip up a winning presentation out of nowhere. A key to their success is the amount of preparation they put in. For many, this can be multiple hours of work for just a one hour talk – but it is this preparation that helps to ensure they are booked repeatedly.
Top speakers prepare by:
- Having a system to gather material, and ensure they can recall it as needed
- Carefully researching their audience
- Gathering and examining feedback
- Understanding the goals of the event organizer
- Practicing their presentation.
Natural abilities will only get you so far in the world of professional speakers – consistent bookings come from careful preparation. What do you do to ensure you prepare effectively?