Supercompetent Speaking: Pre-Presentation Preparations

By Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, NSA President

Good presenters spend time preparing for speeches, both in the long and short terms. Earlier columns have reviewed long-term preparation; in this article, let’s discuss the practical steps you can take immediately before an event to maximize impact and value for the audience. As your presentation comes down to the wire, keep these tips in mind:

1. Arrive early. Connect with the event organizers at least an hour before your talk, so you can discuss your introduction, where to enter the stage, and the agenda. Listen to the speakers before you, so you can reflect their cogent points in your talk. Mix and mingle with the audience to establish rapport and understand what they’re seeking from you.

2. Acquaint yourself with the venue logistics. Whileyou may already have a good idea of your venue’s location and basic facilities, as well as the equipment they provide, you may not know the “feel” of the platform. If possible, the night before or early that morning (while participants are in another room), get to know the speaking area or stage. Walk it to get a good feel of its size, where audience members will be seated, and how you can take advantage of that space for various aspects of your presentation. Make any necessary adjustments, so you feel comfortable. You must own the stage and your environment!

3. Familiarize yourself with the venue’s equipment. Inspect the equipment the venue offers for your use and test it to make sure it all works properly. I recommend you bring your own headset (I use a Countryman) and your own laptop remote, so you are comfortable with your own equipment. I always use my own laptop. Other items to consider include:
• Where can you put your notes and props (if any)?
• What type of lectern or podium do they provide and where will you place your laptop if using one?
• Can the audience see you clearly?
• If not, do you need to move anything in the room or on the stage?
• Do you have control of the room lights (I like them up full)?
• Is there water underneath the lectern or should you bring some onto the stage?
• Can everyone in the room hear you adequately?

4. Prepare your personal equipment. Bring back-up copies of your presentation in two different forms (such as a USB thumb drive, the cloud, or e-mail it to yourself), just in case. Immediately before the engagement, ensure your presentation tools work as they should. Make sure your laptop is receiving power and put it in presentation mode if it’s not already. Test your remote control and sound levels from the computer and the microphone. Pull out your handouts if applicable. If you don’t have a person in the audience timing you, bring along a clock or iPad to keep track of your stage time.

5. Take care of the biological necessities. Get a good night’s sleep the night before your presentation and don’t drink too much. Eat a light meal about an hour before you speak. If I’m speaking at a luncheon, I will nibble at the salad and roll but not the protein. Visit the restroom right before you take the stage.

6. Calm down. Get away from the crowd to calm your nerves and release nervous tension. Try various low-key physical exercises (if you’re backstage and not seen), until you find one that works for you, including:
• Taking deep breaths and exhaling slowly.
• Going for a brief, brisk walk (or pace around a bit).
• Clasping and unclasping your hands.
• Swinging your arms around in a circle.
• Stomping your feet and jumping up and down.
• Pushing against a wall.

7. Mentally, accept your excitement. Choose not to think of your jitters as nervousness or fear. Tell yourself you’re so psyched, excited, or jazzed. Use this motivation to fuel your presentation. Engage in positive self-talk as you prepare to go onstage; expect a friendly audience, and imagine a positive, enthusiastic response to your message.

One final note: If you arrive in town early enough, take a little time to familiarize yourself with your surroundings. If you rented a car, drive the route from your hotel to the venue in advance, so you know how to get there and have some idea of the traffic patterns. Nothing is as stressful as being scheduled to be on stage in 15 minutes and not being able to find the facility.

Laura Stack has consulted with Fortune 500 corporations for nearly 20 years in the field of personal productivity and is the best-selling author of several books, including “Supercompetent.” She is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) and the 2011-2012 president of the National Speakers Association (NSA). Stack’s productivity-improvement programs have been used worldwide at companies such as Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Cisco Systems, and Bank of America. She is the creator of The Productivity Pro planner by Day-Timer. For more information, visit http://www.TheProductivityPro.comor

Note: This article originally appeared on Training magazine’s website. You can read the original version at

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One Comment on “Supercompetent Speaking: Pre-Presentation Preparations”

  1. I’m convinced that 90% of how well a talk will go is determined in the preparation (not only of logistics but in speech development). Thanks for the great advice!!

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