Prepared Spontaneity

There aren't too many things worse than a long, dull, boring lecture or presentation.  Well, maybe it's worse to find yourself in the middle of presenting a boring presentation.  Two things that make a lecture livelier are natural flow or audience interaction and participation.  But how can you avoid a "canned" speech without making sure you are still informative and convey your message?

Lisa Braithwaite asks this very same question in her blog entry, "Can you be prepared and still be spontaneous?"  Well, can you?  Yes you can and here's how:

Do a Basic Outline – As soon as you can, sketch out your main points and supporting ideas.  Add enough information to this outline to be coherent, but not so much it becomes a speech.  Then leave it alone for a few days – or weeks if you have the time – occasionally returning to go over what you've written.  This cements your main points and concepts in your mind so that you won't have to refer to an outline or written speech during the presentation.  You'll sound as natural and confident as if you knew the subject by heart.  Guess what?  By then you will.

Research the Audience You want to know what your audience knows about your subject material so you can fill in the gaps.  Going over things they already know, or starting in the middle of a subject they have no clue about are two great ways to lose your audience fast.

Have Additions – While you are periodically going through your outline and notes, start looking for places where stories, props, examples, and audience participation could go.  Pencil in reminders where you can augment your presentation with these extras.  As you become familiar with the natural flow, you'll know exactly where to slow the pace with a story, or emphasize a point with an example.

Practice for Time – Now when you talk through your presentation – including additions and places for audience questions and such – time yourself.  However, don't have the clock staring you down.  Start a stopwatch and practice in another room.  Naturally and without pressure go through your speech.  It may be over or under your time limit, but at least it won't sound canned.  Tailor your outline and notes accordingly to end on time.

Be Prepared – After all of your hard work, when you show up you should only need a page or two of your outline, complete with reminders of good places for your additions and any other important information you need to convey.  The outline is sparse and the notes absent because all of that information is in you.  Start talking and let your presentation flow out.

Your audience will appreciate your hard work.