Today I’m proud to present Susan Taylor of Imagine Productions. This is part 1 of her blog post on making better nonprofit presentations. Join us on a free webinar on February 20th!

Ahh, you can relax. You finished your presentation. You found just the right images, you are certain that your presentation begins and ends in exactly the right place, you know it answers your audiences’ burning questions, and you found the best and most memorable stories to illustrate your points.

But wait,” as the commercial says, “there’s more.”

You gotta practice it!

Now all your hard work on your presentation needs take a backseat to you. It is time to focus on what you say to your audience and how you behave in front of them. Your presentation slides reinforce your words – not the other way around. So now you need to work just as diligently on the words you say and how you say them as you did preparing your presentation.

It can be very difficult to practice a presentation. First of all, you have to talk to yourself, or rather listen to yourself. This can be a very uncomfortable moment of self-awareness. And second, practice will bring you face-to-face with some of the real anxiety of speaking before an audience. But practice you must.

How do you practice your presentation? Well, first of all you should understand what does not constitute practice.

  • Running through your slides.
  • Mumbling under your breath an equivalent of what you might say.
  • Putting in order the scraps of paper that contain your notes.
  • Thinking about how you might practice.

None of this, plain and simple, is practice.

Practice is actually giving your presentation: standing up, playing your slide deck on your computer transitions and all, looking out at where your audience will be, and speaking the words you wish to use in your speech.

Your words are gold. Practice them. Not once. Not twice. Of course, the number of times you practice is dependent upon a number of factors: what is your general comfort level in front of an audience; how many times you’ve previously spoken on the topic or used these slides; how critical is the event to your future. A presentation before a large and savvy audience, a keynote address, a pitch to a venture capitalist, a TED talk, all demand that you practice long and hard. It is said that Steve Jobs of Apple practiced for three days before one of his keynote speeches – and he was a excellent and experienced speaker and knew both his audience and the topic.

But, even if you’ve given your presentation before, it is deadly to assume that you can come to it cold and succeed. Don’t let a feeling of expertise or complacency keep you from practicing. Even a presentation before a smallish audience requires that you give your talk a run through. After all you are representing your company, your brand or yourself and don’t need to have even one person in that audience tell others that you weren’t prepared or seemed ill at ease. So do the work.

Here’s a special situation that I run into all the time. Many CEOs and executives don’t create their presentations, but rely on staff to do it for them. I’ve heard over and over that it is very hard to persuade these hard-driving folks to practice. And I’ve heard horror stories of the end results: rambling, disconnected speeches, filled with mumblings and angry asides as the executive sees the slides for the first time in front of an audience. It’s tough to find the time practice, but better before than during. No one wants to look like unprepared, or hear you blaming subordinates for your mistakes. If you screw up, you’re the one who looks bad. You are naked in front of your audience.

The first few run-throughs hardly qualify as practice. But this is how you get started. You literally stand up with your notes or your presenter screen in front of you and begin from the beginning and work your way through to the end. During this first run-through make notes on how your transitions work, where you need to pause to set up a video, or lead your audience to try something out. But mostly watch for places that seem weak or overly long, a misplaced slide, a graphic that doesn’t really work, or an abrupt transition from topic to topic. Don’t worry if this rehearsal is very rough – just be thankful this wasn’t given in front of an audience. Now go back and clean up the things that you noticed were out of whack. Be sure that you are completely comfortable with your decisions.

The second run-through is to check for flow and pace. If you are running long or short of your allotted time you will again need to make adjustments. And while you are at it, check to see if there are sections of your presentation that you can eliminate if you are inundated with questions or run afoul of technology and have to shorten your speech. Understand how to set your screen to black when a question is asked. How to back up a slide or two. How to jump to another slide out of sequence. You must be the master of your contents.

And now, finally, you can actually begin to practice in earnest.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you 4 methods to practice your presentation.
I’ll be leading a free webinar on Feb 20th 2013 at 10am PST, 1pm EST on the fine art of preparing a presentation.

Please join me to learn more about this critical phase of RockStar Presentations for Non-Profit Leaders.



Susan Taylor is a founding partner of Imagine Productions, a digital communication company in Portland, Oregon. After a long career in public television and radio in front of and behind the mic, she joined forces with Lucia DeLisa, an award-winning radio producer and editor, to create a company to help companies tell their stories in video and interactive formats. Imagine Productions was among the first to experiment with digital video in Portland Oregon and have continued to pioneer the use of new media. They have developed presentations, e-learning courses and videos for a number of Oregon companies including Freightliner, Adidas, Parr Lumber, Educational Productions and ITI.