If I had to pinpoint one simple ‘secret’ to successful presentation it would be this: Know what you are going to say.
The trouble is that I could never suggest such a thing – because it appears far too obvious! The fact is, though, that this is the most common way in which people let themselves down when giving a presentation.
I am frequently asked by friends and acquaintances for my opinion of a speech or presentation they have just made. All too often you can sense they feel disappointed in themselves and my truthful answer is: “You didn’t really know what you were going to say, did you?”. Their response is usually along the lines of: “No, I’ve been so bus; I didn’t have time to rehearse; I had a look through on the train; etc etc”. Unless you get really lucky, such lack of preparation – and proper construction - will always show.
Part of the problem for ill-prepared speakers is that they see top rated stand up
So should you work from a script? The short answer is ‘yes’. I take inspiration from the best magicians and I was privileged to attend the first lecture given to magicians by Derren Brown. In those pre-TV days he wrote two books of performance advice for magicians. Again, I am lucky enough to have rare, signed first editions. Here is what he had to say about scripting:
The key to achieving good spontaneity is very good scripting. The point of scripting is that you know you can go out on a day that you’ve got a terrible cold and you’re feeling terrible, and do your best show. And on a good day you go out and you do that show, and a hundred adlibs occur to you, they’re great and they form part of the show the next time, they get added to the script. It’s not about killing spontaneity, it’s about setting the framework as best as it can be, to allow you to have the confidence to move into other areas.
The trick, therefore, is to start by planning and plotting your words in fairly fine detail. Then – practice until you are so familiar and comfortable with the words that they come over as completely natural. The fact is that if you want your presentation to seem informal and ‘off the cuff’ – while being truly engaging and effective – you need to fake it. So it needs more preparation time, not less!
Extracted and adapted from Nick Fitzherbert's book Presentation Magic