How Long Should I Spend Preparing For A Presentation?

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Students ask me this question quite often.  The answer depends on how high the stakes are, doesn’t it?  For me, the stakes are always high.  Whether I’m developing a presentation for class, a workshop for fellow faculty, or a video for my volunteer organization, I spend a lot of time and effort preparing.

Let’s break down the presentation I most recently presented in a high-stakes environment.  I presented a Faculty Development workshop in November called “The Introduction the Presentation Revolution.”  I’ve spend about three years reading, studying, and learning the content of the presentation.  If I haven’t put in a thousand hours on my content (my message) yet, I’m getting close.  It took me two months to develop the slideshow, the visual presentation.  I worked a little bit every day from August to November.  For the entire month of November, I rehearsed and practiced my delivery.  This may seem extreme because I am a perfectionist.  Nancy Duarte’s more reasonable suggestion is putting in 36-90 hours of preparation time for a one-hour presentation (Source).

You don’t have time to prepare?  Well, your audience doesn’t want you to waste their time.  Time is valuable.  Consider an audience of 25 people.  Let’s say those people spend one hour listening to you speak.  Including you, that’s 1560 minutes of life you and your audience will never, ever get back.  Is it worth their while?  Are you putting in 1560 minutes of preparation to ensure your audience’s 1560 minutes are worthwhile?

Keep in mind that there is a difference between preparation and practice.  Preparation is about content. Practice is about delivery.  Ethos3’s Scott Schwertly says we should practice at least 8 times (Source).  I believe you must figure out the exact times for yourself, but these general figures from Nancy Duarte and Ethos3 go a long way to let you know how much time and effort the professionals put into their presentations.

Let’s get real.  No one wants to work hard.  Everyone wants the easy way out.  The only people who will be strong presenters are the ones who go the extra mile because they know that’s what their audience needs, wants, and deserves.