Dreamforce '18 is just around the corner, and for people speaking at the event, now is the time to get ready. As you prepare for your presentation, remember that you want to bring your best self to the podium, whether you're speaking to an audience of five...or five thousand.
Whether I'm on the small stage or the main stage, my preparation remains the same. Here are my tips to help you get ready to give the best presentation of your life:
The key to any great speech is to understand your audience and make them the hero of your story. That means you have to know who will be in the crowd and understand how to make your message resonate with them. Ask yourself these questions: “Why is this topic important to them? What do I want them to remember? What do they already know about this topic?”
That last question is key; you have to understand the level of knowledge your audience already has, so you can share the information in a way that is meaningful to them. For example, I'm an engineer and a former master technical instructor. So when I present on technical topics, I make sure I understand if I am talking to novice, intermediate, or an advanced audience, and I tailor my speech accordingly. If the audience is a mix, I bring a beginner's mind to my talk track and don't assume that people will understand concepts and terminology. The bottom line? The more real and relatable I am on stage, the more the audience stays engaged and interested in what I'm saying.
LBO = Learn By Observation, and that is always my mantra. I regularly watch other people present, so I can observe their presentation techniques and the audience's responses. TED Talks are great for this. There are so many presentation styles, and each presenter brings something unique.
I've been working on my craft for a long time, so I know I have strong presentation skills. But there is always room to grow and learn. When I see something that resonates with me, like a new technique or best practice, I try it out. But I don't just replicate it. Instead, I work to make it authentically my own. For example, I watched one presenter whose style involved taking long pauses throughout the presentation. Pauses are an effective device that gives the audience a chance to fully absorb and reflect on what the speaker is saying. So I decided to give it a shot, but I modified it a bit. Now, in my speeches, I use pauses after key points that I really want the audience to remember.
You can't give a presentation about something if you don't understand it.
As a presenter, I always want to speak from a place of authenticity. So whatever product or feature I am speaking about, I roll up my sleeves and learn it. Trailhead makes this easy! Using Trailhead, I can quickly get up to speed and get practical hands-on experience. I simply create a Trailmix of modules, trails, and other items that will help me better understand my topic, and then I dig in. I often get so engrossed, I end up learning my topic at a deeper level than what I need for my presentation. This, in particular, helps build my confidence for the presentation. It also makes me feel extra prepared for any questions afterward.
When you step on the stage, you are standing up there alone, but remember that you represent the work of many people. When I step off the stage after a presentation, people often pay me compliments and say things like, “You shine up there.” Well, let me tell you about that shine. It is not just my work, but the work of a team. When I take the stage, I am honored to represent the hard work of many people. From the innovation of our engineers, the magic of the demo team, the brilliance of the messaging team, the precision of the events team, the trust of our customers, the love of the community, and the support of my family.
This is the foundation of what I bring to all my presentations. It is not just my moment — it is their moment as well, and each presentation is a true team win. Remember the people who helped you get on the stage, and do well not just for you, but for your team.
Preparing for a presentation is very similar to preparing for an athletic event. For example, when I was training for a half marathon, I had a running plan where I had to run incremental miles every day. This practice is what prepared me for the day of the race. When you are presenting, practicing is not an option; it is a must! I practice whenever I can, turning my presentations into bedtime stories for my kids, or practicing while driving them to school. They start to know my speeches by heart, and help me when I mess up!
But if you've ever trained for a race, then you know that before race day, you have to rest. Otherwise, you might strain your body or be overtired the day of the race. It's the same for presenting. You don't want to sound over-practiced, so a day or two before your presentation, go light on your practice. Take care of your body, make sure you are getting enough rest, do not overstrain your voice, drink lots of water, and eat healthly. Then you'll be fresh and ready on the day of your presentation.