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.


>’Ers’ when presenting are NOT evil

>I’m designing some presentation training that’s actually pretty advanced stuff. I’m looking at things like how to understand the psychology of your audience quickly, spending time to rehearse in front of a highly critical group, how you develop your ideas, what presentation aid you should be using. This is exciting stuff and I’m looking forward to rolling this out.

But, in the midst of this, and in the reading around the subject I have to dispel some myths. What irks me – massively – is the way presentation ‘gurus’ / trainers / experts claim you can deliver a perfect presentation without any hiccups.
Let’s take a step back and re-frame what we’re trying to achieve. Someone is trying to develop their presentation skills because there is a need to deliver messages to a group. There will be varying levels to which the message needs to be delivered, but in essence what we’re trying to achieve is getting the person to be able to deliver that message in a way which means that the audience are receptive to it.
Well I tell you what – I can bet my bottom dollar that’s not where a lot of presentation trainers are starting from. They’re typically starting from – you’re broken, let me fix you. The absolute incredulity of it all. The trainer will often have had no experience of their delegate before, but they can fix them so quickly?
I laugh in the face of this audacity. Presentation training is about getting the presenter to understand their own state of mind, how to accept their foibles, and then how to not let those be an issue. I’ve seen presenters who are very nervous. So much so that they physically shake when presenting. With careful development over a course, and coaching, I’ve been able to help them accept that being nervous is fine, and shaking is fine, they just need to be in a different state of mind and not focus on those nerves.
It’s not easy, and that’s why I’m such a harsh critic when I watch programmes like Apprentice or Dragons’ Den where these people are meant to be at the peak of presenting excellence. But equally I do not allow myself to fall into the same traps. I’m incredibly critical of my own presentation abilities. I actively seek feedback which picks up what I need to do to improve. I do this because I have to be able to understand a full range of emotions and anxieties that come with presenting.
So, don’t fall over yourself, or be critical of others if they say ‘er’ or any host of other behaviours that you may think are negative. First, observe. Not just the presentation but the whole person. Then question to understand what they’re trying to achieve and how they think they’re going about it. Then demonstrate what the behaviour looks like. Get them to practise again bearing in mind the feedback. Be critical and supportive. Ultimately you want to find their motivation for doing well. Once you’ve identified that, you need to build on it.
This really isn’t easy. The psychology and training into helping develop presentation skills is of vital importance. You can’t be fixed of your foibles, nor should you be sold this. You can learn how to deliver a message authentically, and this is what you should be sold.

>Presentation training

>I today completed a set of presentation skills training with a group of people at my workplace. I think presentation skills training is my most favourite training that I deliver. It covers a broad spectrum of topics. Much like leadership and management training. But I think for me, this is the best topic. In terms of soft skills, presentation skills training crosses so many necessary skills: assertiveness, facilitation, rapport building, active listening, effective questioning, information delivery, engagement, credibility building, making a personal impact, confidence building, and those are just the ones that come to mind.

What I like best is how conscious I have to be of everything happening in the room at that moment. It’s taken me a long time to understand what that means. It means initially that I have to create an environment that is safe and open for my delegates to say what they need to. They then have to feel that they have something to learn from my session. This is all a power trip for me. I have complete control of that learning environment. Conversely that means I have to ensure the delegates leave learning something of value. Now there’s my true challenge. I believe I’m a great trainer. It’s a strong belief residing in my gut. You know, where the core of a person lies. Anyway, I digress.

More importantly though this means that I have to build a picture of the needs of the delegates and really hone in on those. Now there’s the part I love. By the end of the training in most occasions I’ll have sussed out what the person needs. But that journey to find that out, that’s what I love. Why? Because I love understanding people. And watching a person do presentations tells you so much about their character.

I have seen some God awful presentations delivered well. And some really difficult topics delivered effortlessly. And that’s no mean feat. Imagine having to tell a group of people that your department is receiving negative feedback from other departments and you have to collectively work to change this perception. That’s bloody hard. But when my old manager did this, he didn’t beat us up about it. We felt we had a mission, a purpose, something to prove.

So what’s my point here? Presentations are key in helping you to make decisions about a person. The training I do helps to ensure the message is delivered genuinely. That looks different for each person and that’s how it should be. Next time you see a presentation, give the person feedback. Let them know what impact they made, how they handled questions/challenges, how they built rapport with the group, if the content was appropriate. It has such an impact on the presenter. And you will also learn to have those development conversations so much better.