As your loyal correspondent for the last nine months, I have something of a confession to make: I’ve had conspicuously little experience as an actual presenter. Given that I write about presentations day in and day out, it was about time I threw my proverbial hat into the ring. And throw my hat I did, last Saturday afternoon for BarCamp Nashville, with my presentation titled, “Your Presentation as a Backpack.” Here are a few practical lessons I learned during the process of creating and delivering my presentation.

#1 – Practice Makes Perfect

Don’t wait until your presentation is completely designed to begin practicing. Instead, start practicing your delivery while it’s still in content form, or practice as you design slides. The more often you practice, the more comfortable you’ll be on the big day.

The most helpful feedback I received came when I practiced in front of my boss the Thursday before I was slated to speak. That initial practice round was haphazard to say the least. I stumbled, umm-ed and uhh-ed a lot, and frequently buried my face in my hands, but it was a crucial step in putting the final touches on my presentation. Scott gave me great feedback from which I was able to create new slides that helped my pace and delete others that we deemed unnecessary.

Lesson #1: Practice in front of someone you trust to give you helpful, poignant feedback. Ask them where you could add slides to help your pace, what slides you could remove and what parts could be improved. Also, have him or her jot down comments regarding your delivery, i.e. body language, gestures, demeanor, etc.

#2 – A Great Presentation Takes Time

In the end, what surprised me most about this process was how long it took. First, there was the content to create, which took a good chunk of time and ended up spanning 94 slides–– for a presentation lasting less than 20 minutes! Next, the content had to be designed, which took Kyle, one of our designers, almost a day and a half to complete (so around 12 hours total). And then there was the delivery, which probably totaled nearly 7 or 8 hours in all, as I practiced more than eight times and made a lot of changes to the deck in between practices.

Lesson #2: A great presentation takes a lot of time. Every element of a presentation–- content, design, and delivery–– needs a significant amount of attention devoted to it. And because they’re inherently correlated, they need to be considered as a whole after they are worked on individually. Make sure each aspect can stand on its own, and then make sure they fit perfectly with each other.

#3 ­– Perspective is Powerful

I’m definitely not a natural born orator. I don’t like commanding a room, and I’ve never liked being the center of attention. While I wouldn’t go as far as to call myself deathly afraid of public speaking, it’s not something I’d volunteer to do on a regular basis. Needless to say, I was a ball of nerves thinking about delivering this presentation. I was slated to give a presentation about how to give a presentation… Hilariously meta, yes, but also nerve-wracking… basically, it better be good, or the irony would be palpable. I’ve written about how to remain calm before a presentation, and here I was attempting to follow my own advice.

Lesson #3: The easiest way to calm nerves is to be prepared. I practiced, practiced and practiced until I couldn’t anymore, and it paid off. I was significantly less nervous than I would have been had I not been so prepared. But I also molded my perspective in a way that helped eliminate the nerves. I kept telling myself, ‘it’s going to be fine,’ and ‘this is what professional people do,’ and ‘if I stumble and fall on my face, no one will care an hour afterward,’ and on and on. Play mind games with yourself to make it through. Own the room even if you feel like you’re crumbling inside. Fake it until you make it.


Come back next week for more lessons I learned from my time presenting at BarCamp Nashville. And if you want to check out my “Your Presentation as a Backpack” deck, head over to SlideShare.

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