A Class Discussion on Speech Preparation

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Yesterday, Professional Communication and Presentation had its first 8-hour class of the term.  Our agenda included speech anxiety, preparation, “naked” delivery, creating strong content, storytelling, research and APA format, and an introduction to/time to work on the first speech: a team demonstration of a process.

In class, we watched Michael Bay’s epic presentation fail to lead into the two greatest problems speakers face: speech anxiety and lack of preparation.  My students brought up a great point.  If Michael Bay was presenting for Samsung, they said, a technology company, then he should have been able to rely on the technology to work (namely the teleprompter).  They also brought up Michael Bay’s livelihood as a director and asked if we should give him a break because he isn’t comfortable in front of the camera but behind it.

That lead us directly into our agenda for the day’s class.  We know from the experts that most people don’t prepare enough or prepare properly for a presentation.  Nancy Duarte’s book Resonate tells us that a great presentation takes incredible preparation and planning, yet only 25% of top business executives spend more than 2 hours getting ready for a high stakes presentation (Source).  Since my students will spend roughly 6 hours in class alone preparing for one speech in Professional Communication and Presentation, I hope they see firsthand what a difference preparation makes.  If they don’t learn by doing, we talk about it.  Here, you’ll find my “Preparation” lesson for PCP.

In Michael Bay’s case, he either let his speech anxiety take over; he didn’t prepare the way he should have; or he didn’t prepare at all and relied on technology to do the work for him.

For a presenter in a high stakes speaking environment, such as a Samsung press conference, many strategies can help overcome that stress and anxiety.  It is true that effective preparation and practice is one strategy to help with those nerves.  Other strategies can be found in a Slideshare deck by Orsolya Nemes called “13 Tips to Reduce Presentation Anxiety.”

As far as technology goes, there is no excuse for a presentation fail just because the teleprompter doesn’t work or the slides won’t appear.  Yes, Samsung is a company that deals with electronics and technology, but Samsung wasn’t responsible for delivering a good presentation: Michael Bay was.  When you step in front of an audience, the only thing that matters is that you’ve prepared enough to meet their needs.  They don’t care if the technology fails, and they don’t care if you’re nervous.  They want to know what you can do for them.  In “Prompt Yourself, Not Your Audience,” Nancy Duarte talks about the dreaded teleprompter mishap.  Duarte suggests that rather than relying on a teleprompter, we should use notes when we speak.  We can put our notes in the “Presenter’s Notes” section of a Keynote or PowerPoint, we can write those notes down on cards or in outline format.  These notes will keep us organized and on point if there is a technology fail – or if we get nervous.

Mitch Joel has this to say about the Michael Bay controversy: “Michael Bay was not doing any form of public speaking. He was going to read on stage, live in front of an audience (something that he has never read or rehearsed before). That’s not speaking. That’s reading” [...] “The teleprompter either broke or he said the wrong line and this threw off the script and flow. The truth is that none of that matters because Bay broke the cardinal rule of presenting in public long before the wheels of his plane touched the ground in Las Vegas: he did not prepare. Not even for a second. You can tell by watching the video. Regardless of the teleprompter, it’s clear that Bay had two speaking points: what is his work day in and day out, and what does he think of the new curved glass TV? He got so flustered that he couldn’t even respond to those two questions, so he bolted from the stage. Five minutes of preparation would have changed all of that. Yes, five minutes” (Source).

The experts agree that Michael Bay’s presentation fail could have been avoided with speech preparation.  Some of my students want to give him the benefit of the doubt.  What do you think?  Weigh in on the importance of preparation in the “Comments” section.

How To Practice Your Way To Great Public Speaking

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Last month, I wrote my fifth article for the Full Sail University blog and student/faculty portal, Connect.  My focus has been teaching students practical public speaking and presentation techniques outside of the classroom, and this is especially important for students who don’t take my class or any public speaking class at all.

Read “How To Practice Your Way To Great Public Speaking” here.

Do you write for fun?  Where have you been published?

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.