How I Prepare to Present

In the past few months I’ve given two presentations, one for Start It Up Georgia and one for Start It Up Summer School. Before these, I hadn’t presented to an external audience—one not affiliated with CCAW—in a decade. I was recently asked how I prepare. I didn’t have a ready response, and I recognized the value in thinking it through to answer the question. I decided to share my approach with everyone.

Keep in mind that I was doing what felt right as I went along. I didn’t have a written process. This post is the first time I’ve documented my approach to presenting, which plays to my strengths of being analytical and deliberative. Here’s how I go about it:

  1. Research – I develop a deeper understanding of the topic and recent developments. I check to see if I’ve written any relevant posts (they’re useful because they capture my thoughts).
  2. Reflect – What is the topic? Why do people want to hear a talk about it? What do I want the audience to walk away knowing? I jot down random ideas.
  3. Perspectives – If I know people who’ve presented on the topic or are familiar with it, I ask for their perspective. I share my thoughts and ask for their feedback.
  4. Outline – I create a high-level written outline. What are the major points I want to cover? Does this flow make sense? This helps me logically organize my thoughts.
  5. Deck content – I create the first version of the deck. Some content is new; some is borrowed from previous presentations. Visually it’s ugly, but the material is there. I run through it to evaluate the logic and flow.
  6. Visual design 1 – I send the deck to a designer. We go back and forth until we have a V1 draft that I like. Nailing down the overall look and feel of the presentation is the goal.  
  7. Deck V1 – I create notes for each slide. I detail the main things I want to convey and any relevant stories from my past experiences. I practice the presentation a few times. I start to get a feel for my pacing, total presentation time, and logical flow. I adjust my notes and content and make a list of desired visual changes.
  8. Visual design 2 – I send the change requests to the designer. We tweak until we have a final version.
  9. Rehearsal – I rehearse the presentation until I feel comfortable with it from beginning to end. Every time I run through it, I make small changes to my slide notes. I know I’m done when I feel relaxed with the timing and delivery and can’t think of anything else to change.

This seems like a lot, but it really isn’t too bad. It can take as long as I need it to or as little as two or three days. I do multiple steps simultaneously. I try to be respectful of the time of other people who contribute, such as the designer, and avoid a last-minute fire drill. (Sadly, it doesn’t always work out that way.)

Public speaking isn’t something I enjoy. It makes me nervous. The butterflies don’t go away until the presentation is over, but this process helps me build the confidence I need to deliver a good presentation.

What’s your approach to preparing for a presentation?