Nothing takes the wind out of a presenter’s sails faster than giving the impression that this is 1 out of 100 presentations you’ve delivered the exact same way.

We want consistency from our McDonald’s fries, but when it comes to presentations, whether we’re investors, potential customers, employees, or bosses, we want to feel like the message has been uniquely crafted just for us. A delivery that comes across as overly scripted, memorized word-for-word, and inflexibly rote is always disappointing.

Preparation, as a step in the process of crafting a great presentation, is intended to get you, the presenter, to a place where you’re so comfortable with the basic information and architecture of the presentation that your expertise is unlocked. A truly prepared presenter comes across as relaxed. It can look as though they’re riffing on the subject—indeed, a truly prepared presenter will at times seem as though they’re just improvising the whole thing. But they’re not.

By contrast, someone who prepares by memorizing a specific script is actually taking the shortest path to presenting, and this laziness in effort translates to a poor delivery. See, memorization is a short-term memory process. It’s based on repetition, and really doesn’t take that long to achieve. Just like we used to cram for high school biology tests, it’s easy to get a bunch of information temporarily stored in the brain long enough to pass a multiple choice test the next day. But nothing exposes the downside of cramming faster than the discovery that the test isn’t multiple choice; it’s essay.

Presentations are essay tests. They demand a more intensive depth of knowledge, an almost second-nature understanding of the subject matter and how individual variables affect the big picture. When we present as truly prepared individuals, we convey that total subject mastery and the credibility we build with our audience is invaluable. When we present a very linear, rote narrative, we leave our audience questioning our real understanding of the subject matter and that hurts our message in the long run.

We know great presenters who have put their messages and decks together 5, 6, or 7 times trying to get it right. It may sound like a waste of time, but these are the people who know their stuff. They’ve tried every angle and thought-process, and by the time they get a finished product, they have a built-in understanding of their subject that can’t be mimicked by memorization.

The best thing to do if you want to sound more like an expert and less like a robot is to deconstruct the message and rework it from several different angles. Come at it from the perspective of that one guy you know that would disagree with you: a doubtful investor, a competitor, an employee that doesn’t want to change processes, etc. Force yourself out of the box: anticipate as if it is an uncertainty that people won’t be kind during the presentation. Imagine what you’d say if audience members just popped up to question every point. Would you be ready to answer their hard questions? Would you be ready to support the underlying assumptions of your presentation if they were questioned? When the answer is yes, you’re probably ready to be the expert in the room.

Question: How do you take your preparation to the next level?

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