image by misssluluu, flickr artist

i was recently in an internal marketing meeting with one of the higher ups in the firm (when you’re a lvl 2, pretty much everyone is “higher up” than you are..), and — not to brag at all, but — i nailed it.

while i had some high esteem leaving the conference room, i thought to myself on the elevator: “gee, i sure hope to god i did nail my presentation; i’ve been giving pretty much the same brief for a year now.” bringing a new capability to market takes a while, and i’ve probably sold my work to both internal and external stakeholders at least once a month since i started working at booz allen last february. that’s certainly no short amount of practice time.

so the other day when i was giving my brief about how we came up with the idea, and how all the different pieces all come together to create a singular picture, about all of the benefits that can come from using this tool, they were the same words that i’ve said a hundred times over. that’s where i think the lesson comes in at:

effective presentations start with preparation.

i’ve seen some really horrible presentations before, and one of the things that many of them have in common is a lack of conviction. if you’re giving a presentation to a crowd of people, and you’re looking back over your shoulder constantly to your slides — or worse yet, reading off of them — how can you expect those people to believe in what you’re saying? is this product really

good? is it actually going to make my enterprise better, faster, cheaper, or more efficient? because you don’t seem convinced of it yourself.

you need to have, and speak with, conviction.

it is nearly impossible to create a powerpoint in a couple of hours across 2 or 3 days and deliver an effective presentation the next. you have to have an intimate knowledge of not only the topic, but what your story is going to be. you can only gain this familiarity through preparation.

storyboard your presentation. take your slides, print them out, and literally storyboard them. move content around to see where it fits best, scrap content entirely that doesn’t add value, and build a story that’s both logical and compelling.

practice your presentation. i know it sounds stupid, but having an internal monologue or even talking to the wall will help you prepare. you’ll formulate your words ahead of time and end up creating a speech that you internalize and can reproduce when delivering the presentation. in addition to cutting down on the number of “but, umms” you have, it will also give you a grasp on the amount of time it will take to give it. you already know the subject (or you wouldn’t be giving a presentation on it!), so now is the time to focus on the delivery itself.

don’t listen to other people… kind of. if someone says your presentation doesn’t make sense the way it is, then yes, you’re going to want to look into that. don’t, however, incorporate their feedback unless it fits your overarching plan. remember that it’s your presentation in the end, and you’re the one who has to deliver it. if you’re uncomfortable going into a particular sub-topic, or if others suggest that you talk about a topic that doesn’t fit into your overall story — then don’t.it’s ok to say, “i appreciate your feedback, but that’s not exactly what my goal is here.”

so the next time you know that you have to give a presentation, ask yourself one question: do i know my presentation as much as i know the subject?

if the answer is yes, then go out and nail it.