5 principles for the set up of presentations

Today I’m going to be delivering presentation skills training. I’ve said before many times how it’s one of my favourite subjects to do training on. It covers so many personal development skills – assertiveness, listening, influencing, body language mastery, voice projection, clear communication, and so much more.

One of the things I talk about in every session is the importance of practice. If you practice delivering a presentation, this is by far and above the best way to ensure you deliver a great presentation. Without practice, you may as well not bother.

That’s not what I want to talk about here though. What I want to talk about today is the importance of the set up. When it comes to delivering a training session, a presentation, or facilitating a workshop, the set up is absolutely vital. If you get this wrong, it derails you as the lead person, and only undermines your personal confidence.

Over on his blog, Doug Shaw spoke about the importance of having space in between meetings in order to give yourself the right thinking time to move from one mode of thinking to the next. Too many people book back to back meetings not giving themselves the headspace to be their best. People are also guilty of this when it comes to presentations. They’ll be working on the slide deck they want to present with right up until the last minute, not giving themselves any time to actually get set up. And we’ve all been there when the set up is happening as people are arriving.

So I’d like to lay out a list of things you should be doing before any important presentation/meeting/workshop. These principles apply universally in this regard.

1) Be early for your own meeting. You’re the one organising this event, so you need to control it from the get go. Your preparation ahead of the event should be enough that you know what you are doing. Being early is all about giving yourself the headspace to create the environment you want. Room layout, position of projector, accessibility of materials, positioning of refreshments, presentation materials, all determine what kind of event it is likely to be.

2) Use this time for thinking and rehearsing. You should have been doing this anyway in preparation. What you’re doing now is crafting the message to be what you want. When you were practising in advance, you weren’t in the room. Now you are, it’s all about the message.

3) Be sure you’ve had something to drink and eat. Personally I use this time to have my cup of tea and something to eat. I don’t advocate that as being the right way to do it, but it seriously works for me. What’s important is that you are hydrated and you are not hungry. Both of those things will throw you off your flow when you least need it to. Trust me, thinking about how hungry you are mid flow is distracting to yourself. You don’t need that.

4) This is your time. Some people will arrive early. That’s fine, they’re allowed to do that. You are under no obligation to connect with them at this stage. If you want to cos you’re a nice person then sure do it. But this is your time. If you start servicing the needs of others before you’re even ready, you’ll only be rushing yourself to get things in the order you want them. Be nice, and be courteous, but don’t be subservient.

5) Do something that makes you feel good. Every great presenter does something which gets them into the right place. You might call this your happy place, you might call it being in the zone. Whatever it is, it’s about helping yourself to feel good. If you feel good before this thing begins, you’ll feel good throughout.

There are other things you could be doing too, like testing the technology, or if it’s a group presentation, having a quick run through of the plan. What I wanted to provide is a set of principles that help give you the best start to a presentation on the day of the event itself. If you think I’ve missed any out, please add in the comments.


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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