Sunday, 6 November 2011

Delivering a successful presentation

 So it has been a while since I have had a chance to mull over some of the bitsesize gems of wisdom that appear on the Harvard Business Review Management Tip of the Day website, so it's nice to be able to take some time to reflect on one that I read recently about delivering presentations successfully

Believe it or not, we are still in the throes of trainee training  even though it's November - our program starts off quite intensively for the first four weeks of the trainees' arrival, and then we hold a couple of sessions later on once they are more settled into their seats. The session that I am preparing for at the moment is to do with European law, and believe me, it's not something I particularly enjoy training people in! In my opinion, European law research can be very tricky indeed when you start to dig further than, say, just looking for a case! I have just been going over my examples for researching European secondary legislation before its published in its final form, and so this particular tip is pertinent to me right now, as I am always open to ways to improve my delivery in such sessions.

Careful preparationThe first recommendation is excellent preparation. I cannot agree more with this. It may seem obvious to some people, but you would be surprised how many people think that a sketchy knowledge is ample, and they will be able to wing it once they're up there. I personally can't think of anything more horrendous! I realise that you don't want to be too 'scripted'; you don't always want to be looking down at your notes, but want to sound natural - but at the same time, I like to know I have a thorough understanding of the background to what I am actually talking about. My informal 'mentor', a lady I worked with a few years ago and who I talked about at length in one of my CPD23 posts earlier in the year, is without a doubt the person who always stressed to me the importance of being prepared. Not only will you feel more confident once you are up there, but you will also feel more confident when it comes to answering questions from the audience. A good knowledge of what you are actually talking about will make this side of things a lot easier. It's a piece of advice I have never forgotten and I am glad to see that the Harvard Business Review agree that it's of great importance!

Doing a dry run - 1
The next crucial piece of advice is to do a number of dry runs, first in front of your computer, with the slides if you have any, and then without the slides. The point of doing it first in this way is to enable you to focus on what you are saying without having to worry about body language at this stage.  Again this is without a doubt a very important part of the presentation preparation. I like to have enough time to familiarise myself with what I am going to be saying - particularly because when I am doing trainee training, I am doing live examples on various databases and websites - and there's always at least one example that goes wrong, no matter how many times I have run it in my dry run sessions! So while you can't preempt everything when you are doing 'live' searches, it certainly helps to make you feel more confident if you have run them before and they worked - sometimes it's just that you have made a simple typing error! Knowing that your examples worked previously gives you more confidence when it comes to sorting out any problems that may arise on the day, in my experience.

Dry runs also enable you to memorise a lot more than you would if you just turned up with some notes you threw together the day before. Nothing will make you feel more relaxed and confident than knowing you know your topic and the aims of your session thoroughly.

Doing a dry run - 2
For the final stage of preparation, they advise doing another dry run, but actually in the room, or a room similar to the one you are giving the presentation in. This allows you to put the whole package together, concentrating not only on what you're saying, but how you are delivering it: eye contact, posture etc. This is definitely a valid point, and is something that I tend to forget about when I am doing some kinds of presentation - I get so caught up in the content itself, that I forget about the image I am projecting when I present. The image I want to present is that I am calm, in control and moreover, fully understand what I am talking about! I think this is something that you really need to focus on projecting, even if you don't necessarily feel it 100%. I think people do pick up on nerves in a presenter. I often find it helpful to picture someone who I think gives really effective presentations; it could be a colleague, a friend, someone you saw at a conference. Watch their body language, how they move about the stage/room etc, how they make eye contact. You can learn a lot just from observation.

I definitely found this post a helpful one. It makes some valid key points with regard to preparing to present to others. Now, however, I better get back to the joys of Eur-lex... :)

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