You’ve hit the big times– at least sort of. Well, someone asked you to come and present a program for their group, and you said Yes! Now what? The event is in a few weeks, and you have only a topic and a vague idea about what you’ll say. Before you think, “I’ll just wing it,” STOP!
Here are a few tips to pull off a polished and professional presentation.
First, do your research. Know who else is speaking, and be sure your topic is yours alone. And do whatever research you need to do for your own program. If you are recommending practices and ideas, have you tried them for your own situation? If you are demonstrating techniques, are you well-versed in them (and possibly others, which may be brought up in your Q&A segment)? Make sure you know your stuff.
Create a fantastic slide show. Slides should include the headlines and bullet-points for your talk, but not every word. Don’t stand in front of a group and read. They can do that without you. Let them take the notes that mean the most to them. And use pictures and videos whenever possible. People learn in all different ways, so appeal to as many of their learning paths as you can.
Have a handout or two. This may get expensive if you get too fancy, but a simple bookmark or manipulative can be quite effective. I attended a program where the speaker handed out buttons, and then her parting advice was “just get your butt-on the seat in front of your computer and write.” I may not remember much more that she said, but I still have that button.
Practice. You will, no doubt, have a time frame in which you will speak. Practice with your slide show to be sure you can get everything said in your allotted time. It’s rude to run over into someone else’s time, and you will probably have people walk-out and miss your big finish. Nobody wants that. Take a little time in front of a mirror to practice your whole message. It will make a difference. Be sure to give yourself a few minutes for questions at the end. And if nobody asks questions, be sure to let them know that there are still a few minutes remaining before the next speaker and that you’re happy to visit for a minute or two afterward. Some people just don’t want to ask questions in front of a crowd.
Lastly, relax and have fun. Tell an appropriate-to-your-topic joke if you have one. (Practice it a lot, so you don’t mess up the punch line.) And be sure you look relaxed. That’s half the battle. While your clothing should fit the occasion, dress comfortably in removable layers so that you can adjust your ensemble to the temperature of the room.
Don’t sweat it. You can do whatever you set your mind to do!