Have you ever been in a room, with a group of colleagues, clients or business partners, sat around the table computer in front of you – preferably open (this helps protect us … I imagine)?

So you chat away about the weather and what’s happening in business, sip on coffee, the atmosphere is light and almost friendly… and then the hammer falls –

OK now Fred is going to present XXX to you …

Fred, slowly gets up, laboriously carrying his computer to the front of the room, carefully leaving his personality and his confidence where he was sitting. The former chatty and smiling person becomes stricken with fear that pulls his face into a rictus, makes him almost stutter, whilst searching for his words, which are lost in a never-seen-before indistinct mumbling.

So what happened? What went wrong?

Fred is now stood just 3 meters from where he was happily and confidently speaking just a few minutes ago. 3 meters!

This isn’t the first time that this has happened, he often feels like this.

There was no surprise, Fred knew he had a presentation to give, he knows the audience and he knows his subject inside out – he is, in fact, the best person in the company to do this presentation. Or is he?

The problem is that Fred is projecting a less than positive image of himself and the company – try as they may, the audience will be really challenged to look past the nervous presenter and feel confident with Fred and the company.

And this happens to so many professionals, people who are excellent at their jobs, but who, all too often sell themselves short.

The key is in the preparation.

People often spend a lot of time on the preparation of their Powerpoint or Keynote slides, on the substance of their presentation – their subject, but little time on the structure, themselves and the message they want to get across and even less time on the impression they want to leave with the audience.

Regrettably, presenters often forget about the most important people in the room – the audience.

They also forget to prepare themselves for “getting on stage”, which is what they are doing when presenting, and no actor or performer would ever dream of setting a foot on stage without preparing themselves – voice, relaxation and focus. However, presenters do, often, and expect to get away with it. Some do, but many don’t.

If we believe in the theory of Primacy, which argues that we remember the first things we see and hear then it may be worth preparing the start of a presentation.

Recency is a theory which states that we remember the last things we hear as these things  remain in working memory.

We know that Fred is good at his job, knows his subject and is able to talk effectively about it, most presenters demonstrate this by having a good ‘middle’ in their presentations.

So, what about the start and finish?

We generally choose to read a book by several principle reasons:

1. The cover attracts us

2. Recommendation

3. The author

4. The first few pages that capture us.

5. The way the story is crafted

Virtually the same phenomena can be applied to presentations, think about it.

If the end of the presentation is flat, we may remember that and not the good stuff that went before it – similar to removing the last page from a great book.

If it started badly (too, which is often the case), we may have problems staying focused, or to even bother listening.

Audiences are usually made up of people who are empathetic to the plight of a presenter – up to a point. An audience will happily help out a person who is struggling with stress – hey, we’ve all been there – ‘there but for the grace of God’ etc. But, as soon as a presenter starts to bore an audience, then their patience wears thin and they are just not prepared to help out.

The Pareto is simple – 80% preparation (at least) to 20% presentation (at most), I would include in the 80% about 10% for the Powerpoint / Keynote preparation, so you know where the rest of the time should be spent – on the audience and You as the presenter.

How close are you to this?

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