Being asked to give a public presentation can be both gratifying and frightening. The gratification is natural since we can assume our innate talents have been noted, our expertise acknowledged and our humility respected! How rare is that? The feeling of fright is also entirely natural — caused mainly by the uncertainty and the unknown. But a fear of public speaking can be overcome. Indeed it is typically tackled by solid preparation and planning which are the essential attributes for effective presentations.
But putting aside these natural human emotions, gratification and fear, there is an immediate set of priorities that must be started. You should not accept the invitation to give a presentation immediately. Now this might seem an unrealistic expectation when faced with the fiery South West Regional VP for Distribution but if it’s the conference planner from the Distribution Association then you are undoubtedly on firmer ground. They will understand. And if it is the fiery VP it’s worthwhile to emphasise the professionalism with which you approach presentations at this stage.
Our move to not accept a presentation engagement immediately is not a result of coyness. No, we have to find out more. And finding out more at this stage is very important in the context of our later presentation planning and preparation. Before we accept an invitation to make a presentation we need answers to these questions:
- Who wants you to speak and which organisation do they represent? There is every chance that the person asking you to present is known to you. But equally they might have contacted you through a third party or via a contact in your LinkedIn network for example. In that case it makes sense to put the contact into context and establish who they work for, whether they are independent or who they represent.
- What are their contact details? Even if you know the person who invites you to make a presentation it’s a good idea to confirm the best contact details. Check whether their cell has changed or whether email is preferred. And if the presentation organiser is not known to you then it is absolutely essential that you establish contact arrangements — which are, of course, reciprocal.
- What is the planned event? It’s vital to establish what event is being planned. Is it a sales conference or an annual Association meeting? Is it a meeting of technical partners or a product launch? Knowing some simple details of the event allows us to prepare our planning. For example, if we are asked to speak at an Association’s annual meeting we should establish the Association by name and its primary function. It could be a Trade Association or a charity. Knowing these details allows us to picture our potential audience and our likely participation.
- When and where is the planned event? Distance is not dead. Knowing when and where the event is due to occur must be identified right away. If the event is local that might make it easier to participate. Alternatively if the event involves significant travel it might be possible to combine your participation with some other activity. Some knowledge of when the event is planned for will also provide some clues. If the event is next week then you can be assured that more than one speaker has dropped out and you are being asked out of necessity. It does happen, unfortunately. Typically presentation planners work to timescales of several months when planning key events.
- How many speakers will be involved? It’s a rarity for any speaker to be the sole presenter on the podium. In most instances you will share the platform with several speakers with a budgeted time allowance of some 45 minutes. Perhaps longer. Knowing how many speakers are involved gives you an indication of the event’s importance, its profile within its industry and its potential attendance. And as a tip, once we have established how many speakers are involved we have the means to explore their details in more detail at a later time.
- What is the theme of the event? It’s not unusual for event planners to use a theme with which to identify their event. Using a theme such as, Being Best, allows a range of speakers to explore all the essential attributes of customer care, quality management, production quality or people management. It provides a framework for each speaker and importantly, allows each speaker to interact sub-consciously with the rest of the platform. Knowing the theme at this stage is essential for your preparation. And if there is no clear theme you should aim to get this on the presentation planner’s agenda later.
- What sort of presentation is expected from me? This might be a purely mechanical question, but it has to be asked. For instance there might be an expectation that you will make a presentation and then answer questions later. Or, you might be expected to sit on a speaker panel, make a presentation in turn and then have questions asked collectively of the panel later. Different formats require different preparation and you should understand the event requirements early on.
- Why am I being asked to present? We should take care with this question. If the event is planned for next week you might already suspect the answer! But there is a serious point to be made. If you are being asked to present because you are a respected expert in your field then it’s very likely that your presentation subject is going to be crafted along the same lines. Alternatively, if you are asked to present because of your work in a particular organisation then it’s natural to consider citing relevant organisation case studies and references when you move on with presentation planning.
- What visual elements can be supported and will the event be broadcast? We take it for granted that every event supports multimedia content. But if we are asked to speak before or after lunch then the visual dimension of our talk will be very different to a standard podium presentation. This point must be picked up later with the event planner. It’s not unusual for the media to be involved with larger scale events. Knowledge about media involvement at this stage is important since a late surprise might prove a problem. If the media is to be involved then you should ensure that your marketing or PR team is aware of their involvement which could be mutually productive.
- Can I call you back to confirm? This is not as hard as it sounds. You will need to check your schedule. Or you might need to check with your partner. Alternatively you might want to see whether anything else in the schedule is moveable to accommodate this event. On the basis of the answers that you have already received this invitation might be a case of…”drop everything and attend,” or an instance of…”try to squeeze it in if possible.” Once you have agreed a timeline in which to call back the planner you must call them back. It’s both polite and politic. You will need their active support and involvement later.
So we have ten easy questions to ask before we agree to give that presentation. In essence they are the first steps needed for effective presentations. By asking them we acquire much of the useful information that will subsequently guide our presentation planning process. And by planning effectively we ensure that we present effectively without the collateral fear of public speaking. Now, should we accept that invitation or not?