Thursday, October 29, 2009

Week 9: Prep: like packing a suitcase

When is preparing for a speech like packing a suitcase? Every time you make the trip, I say. In this week's online coaching, Stephanie asked for tips on preparation, which is her third coaching priority. Both Stephanie and I are traveling this week--she's going to a women's empowerment conference, and I led a communications skills workshop for scientists--so it's timely to share these tips I've packed for her on preparing for a speech:


  1. Use a checklist to focus on the traveler, not just the suitcase: Like many speakers, Stephanie's concerned about preparing content, but I believe she--and you--should step back and consider how to prepare the whole speaker, from body and mind to technology and tactics. Use my checklist to prepare the whole speaker to work through what you need to consider. Tip: The first few times you use this, you may want to download it and write down your answers. Like any packing list, this checklist makes sure you don't forget essentials.
  2. Don't overpack! Focus so you pack only what you need: There's nothing worse than hauling around all the things you thought you'd need...but didn't. I recommend focusing by developing a three-point message, as we reviewed in week 2. Remember, you can announce to the audience that you'll be focusing your remarks, to make sure they don't expect you to cover every aspect (and they don't even want you to do that).
  3. Pack with flexibility in mind. Far better to pack three versatile pieces--the three parts of the message you've developed--than a fixed outline when you're packing your speaking 'suitcase.' Stephanie asked how she could prepare, but remain flexible to accommodate something in the moment. A three-point message lets you do that: You can rearrange the points, spend more time on one than the other two, or take time to divert for a moment, then return to the final point. The trick is to using some basic tactics or "glue" to make your message stick, so you that you remember your outline well enough to divert from it and then return.
  4. Preview what you're packing with practice. You might well test out what you're going to pack before a trip--no sense bringing the pants that don't fit, right? It's the same with speaker preparation. Practice and preview your remarks, your wardrobe, and your technology, so you can choose what to leave behind and what to take with you. There's no need to pack things "just in case" when you've already tested what you'll actually need.
  5. But stop trying things on over and over. If you can never decide what to pack--or what to do in your presentation--and find that overpreparation is a nervous habit, focus on solving that instead of your preparation. My four tips for those who overprepare for speeches will give you ways to tackle the nerves and convince yourself you're ready. If you want to do something before the speech, I'd rather see you use your energy developing a message and practicing it than worrying whether you got everything jammed into the case.
  6. Take something out. Rather than pack all your facts into your slides and your remarks, take some out of the speaking suitcase you're toting around. Save a few facts to weave into your answers--and remember, if you don't cover every item, you'll be leaving room for your audience to contribute, engage and wonder.

Here's hoping these tips help Stephanie--and you--prepare for the next stop on your speaking journey. Please share your tips for speaker preparation in the comments.

Related posts: Week 9: Stephanie focuses on preparation

A checklist to prepare the whole speaker

Developing a message

Glue to make your message stick from week 2

4 tips if you overprepare for speeches