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How to Prepare Effortlessly With 6 Easy Questions

by Dorothy Leeds

Albert Einstein once said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning." This is especially true than when you are preparing your presentations.

When presenters think of questions, they usually get chills down their spine thinking of the bane of every presenter’s life – the question and answer session. But, questions also play a crucial role before you even stand up on the platform. In my new book, The 7 Powers of Questions: Secrets to Successful Communication in Life and at Work, I discuss the value of self-questions. Questions we ask ourselves make the difference between being successful and just getting by.

The same applies for presentations. We need to ask ourselves questions before the presentation to ensure that we will be “performing” at our best. Here are some of those key questions:

What is the purpose behind this speech? If you don’t know your purpose, neither will your audience. And when they don’t know your purpose, they will become confused and bored. Most people confuse the subject and the purpose, but they are vastly different. Your subject is the content you cover. To develop your purpose, you first need to ask yourself: What do I want my audience to know? to feel? to do? Once you have answered those questions, the purpose of your speech should be evident.

Who is the audience and what is their main interest in this topic? There’s no use in talking about your new sales procedures to the administrative assistants. To make your presentation relevant to your audience, you must know what will be of interest – and use – to them.

What do I already know and believe about this topic as it relates to the audience? What additional research can I do? Before you can piece together your presentation, you have to know what information you already have and what information you need to get. Once you have the information, prioritize it and include only the necessary information. Ask yourself, What is the bare minimum amount of information I must include?

Have I written out all my major transitions and planned the minor ones? Be sure that the audience can follow you throughout your talk. Transitions – major or minor – are what keeps your audience with you. They are an opportunity to reenergize your audience. For example, instead of saying, “This next slide...” ask “What are the key elements to assure a successful launch?” Get your audience’s input and attention before clicking on the next slide.

What supporting information and stories can I use to support each of these points? For every major point you make, you must explain, elaborate, and give an example. In the New York Times I read an article about a probe going to Jupiter. It was speeding along at 106,000 miles per hour, which was a speed I just could not comprehend. But the author gave this wonderful example: it went so fast, it was as if we could fly from New York City to San Francisco in one and a half minutes. Now that’s fast – and a great example.

What visual aids – if any – do I need? Notice that this question is not first. That’s because – despite popular belief – a presentation is not a series of slides. Visual aids are aids meant to assist you in making your information meaningful and interesting. Think of your presentation as a house. The purpose is the foundation and the main points are the frame. The examples and stories you use to illustrate your points are the walls. Now, think of visual aids as the finishing touches – like siding, window sills, the tiles on the roof. Visual aids are very important to the presentation, but they are not the foundation and they should not be the only thing keeping your presentation standing. Ask yourself, are the visual aids I’m using really necessary for me to get my point across or are they just distracting the audience from what I’m saying?

There are many questions you need to ask yourself to guarantee maximum preparation. "Do I have an arresting opening and memorable conclusion?" "In my final summary, have I explained to the audience what I expect them to do with this information?" "Have I polished and practiced the language of the speech?" "Have I written an inviting introduction for my introducer (or for myself if there is no introducer)?" "Have I taken care of all the stage-managing details that will help me speak confidently?" "Am I familiar with the quirks of all the equipment? Have I timed my speech by practicing it exactly?" "Have I orchestrated the question and answer session well?"

As a presenter, you can never be too prepared. Keep asking and follow Mr. Einstein’s advice.

  Dorothy Leeds
  800 West End Ave.
  New York, NY   10025
  212.932.8364 (FAX)

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