Everyone remembers their first presentation, whether a new business pitch or a report to seniors. Whatever the scenario, it can be a pretty daunting task.
My first significant presentation was back in the days when I worked for Marks & Spencer and was looking to convince the board to enter the insurance marketplace. It needed to be concise, accurate and answer any questions before they were asked, but most of all it needed to be good and I needed to practice.
I was not new to presentations but this had to be spot on if I was to effectively and efficiently convey my messages. Yet, every time I practiced, my mind jumbled itself as I thought of other equally important things to convey. I was left with a disjointed patchwork of notes which simply didn’t work.
The problem was that I didn’t want to write the script, I knew my stuff, and advice from colleagues that were ‘presentation gurus’, agreed that I didn’t need a script; I just needed to be me.
Then I watched a video by a guy who teaches the art of the presentation and, that’s right, he had a script. The implication was stop being such an amateur. You are a grown up, act like one. Write a script.
It was a lightbulb moment. Why had I assumed that he had a preternatural ability to speak in a conversational manner without pause, deviation or hesitation? It was so conversational I assumed it couldn’t be scripted.
So, I started to write a script. Or rather, to help with the conversational style, I took some notes and then ad-libbed into a dictaphone. Then I used software to transcribe the audio into Word which I then edited and used that as a draft script. One more round of ad-libbing and transcription and I had a script and I could practice.
I was now ready for the presentation. I felt confident and relaxed during the whole process and it showed in my tone of voice and the positive reaction in the room. What’s more, having put so much into drafting the script, having had the right practice meant I did not need my script as it had given me the order, priorities and challenges needed to make the presentation.
The major part of making a successful presentation is not just the delivery, it’s the preparation –writing, content scouting, supporting imagery or video rehearsal and editing. Standing up for a period of time is the easy bit, if you’re prepared and have a plan. If you’re not prepared and don’t have a plan, the practice is painful.
Practice is critically important to skill development. Doing something badly and hoping that through repetition it will come good just doesn’t work.
The key for me was the script part. What I needed to get right was the art of good script writing, whereas what I was trying to do was to become good at perfect ad-libbing to an audience. It was unlikely that I could achieve that. I had the wrong objective and all the practice in the world was never going to help.
We all do things badly in our lives because we feel we don’t have the time or skill to do it right. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly so remember practice does not always make perfect; it’s perfect practice that makes perfect.