Presentation Skills: Preparation: Peak PerformanceAnticipation: Building Up to Peak Performance
When the presentation stakes are high, you need to be at your peak. You're striving for your best-a good grasp of your material, clear focus and, in your delivery, energy without the tension. Here's a partial list of things to do to be at your best:
Begin at the end. Start with the end result in mind. Define a specific outcome for your presentation. Ideally, make it something that the audience will actually do if your presentation is a success. For example, do you want your audience to approve your project? Or change their thinking in some way? Then work your way from there to analyze your audience, understanding their needs, interests, and biases. Understand what obstacles they may face to taking the action you've defined. Next, start to define how you will persuade them to act, based on your knowledge of the audience and your topic. Make certain you know how to hone in on what matters to them rather than focusing just on what you want to say.
Practice, practice, practice. Start rehearsing early. Move away from the keyboard. Speak your presentation. Make certain the flow works as you speak it, not just think it. Get feedback from someone who will be straight with you. Videotape yourself to see how you're using body language to support your messages, and listen to the tone of your voice. Is it as passionate and compelling as it could be?
Visualize. See yourself succeeding in your mind's eye. Imagine every aspect of your presentation as vividly as you can. Even feel your emotions as you arrive in the room and begin to speak. Continue right through to the audience's reaction of the last word you speak.
Worry-at least a little. Worry, that is, about the things that might go wrong. Think of every little thing. Then decide how you would deal each one. Far better to address the worst-case possibilities ahead of time and to prepare yourself at this stage. No one wants to be surprised-or derailed-at the worst possible time.
Test-drive the equipment. To reduce the risk of problems, make a point of rehearsing in the room you'll be using, ideally with all the visuals, lights, and sound system. Pretend it's the real thing. Get comfortable with your surroundings and eliminate any problems that could impede your success. On presentation day, check the room early to make sure everything is just as it should be. Check the equipment again. Count the chairs. Make sure there are no outside distractions. Carry the phone numbers of anyone you may need to call for help with equipment, room temperature, food for breaks, or anything else that may become a problem.
Remember the "little things." Appearance counts. Before presentation day, get a haircut; go to the hairdresser. Go to the cleaners. Pick out the appropriate attire, including accessories. Simple, understated, is best. Get enough rest leading up to the big day. Hydrate. Drink plenty of water in the days before you present. No need to go "cold turkey," but do cut down on caffeine and alcohol. Not only can they throw you off, but both are dehydrating.
Warm up. Walk around. A short, brisk walk has a calming effect. Swing your arms to help loosen up. Find a quiet place to spend a few moments. Then prepare your voice. Take deep breaths (See our article on breathing exercises). Do vocal warm-ups.
Now welcome the inevitable rush of energy when you're introduced. It's a sign that you've entered the zone you've been working toward-the zone of peak performance.