Over the next month, I’m going to be putting together a 50-minute Touch the Sky keynote presentation for a professional conference scheduled for October 3rd. I thought it might be interesting and helpful for you to get a glimpse into my presentation preparation process, including the production schedule I put together to help me create and thoroughly rehearse this presentation. Through a series of articles, I’ll give you an intimate view of my own process, including whatever struggles I face as I both honor my production schedule and juggle my very full calendar of coaching and training.
Below is the article that kicks off this series.
Question: How do you eat an elephant?
Answer: One bite at at time.
My presentation skills coaching clients often complain that there never seems to be enough time to focus on properly putting together and delivering a killer presentation. The presentation looms like a giant beast, overwhelming and insurmountable.
I completely understand my clients' frustration, their high degree of overwhelm. Life is, after all, pretty darn full: There’s work to complete, family responsibilities to uphold, meals to prepare, emails to respond to, piles of laundry to fold, social media updates to make, and a steady supply of curve balls– a client crisis! A last-minute proposal to crank out! Your computer crashing!– that seem to require our immediate and total attention. No wonder, when suddenly informed that they have to give a presentation at an upcoming event, the average person hyperventilates, freaks out and wants to hide under their desk..When, they wonder, am I going to have the time to deal with putting together a decent presentation? I mean has anyone even seen the state of my desk? Of my in-box?
Under these circumstances, creating a killer presentation can feel downright impossible. Like eating an elephant whole in one sitting.
Which is why the recommended way to eat an elephant is, as the saying goes, one bite at a time.
One bite at a time is also the best way to tackle the seeming behemoth that is your presentation. That's how you'll get the darn thing done in spite of a life full of distractions.
Easy for me to say, right? I am, after all a speaking professional, with years of practice creating and delivering presentations under pressure. Facing the elephantine task of creating and rehearsing a memorable speech by deadline must surely be easy-peasy for me. Right?
I may be a professional speaker and trainer, with years of stage experience under my belt, but I'm also human. Which means I can get overwhelmed or procrastinate just as much as the next person. And with my insane schedule of coaching, training, speaking, writing and product development, not to mention the demands of being a wife, step-mom, friend and cat mama– it can be truly tricky to squeeze in time to prepare the big keynotes I'm paid to deliver.
Very few people I know—including professional presenters—have vast swaths of uninterrupted time available to create and finesse a presentation. And very few of us relish getting down and dirty with the nuts and bolts work of blueprinting, fleshing out and rehearsing a speech. But if we don’t learn to master the presentation preparation process, we won’t be masterful presenters.
Which is why I am a big believer in creating a presentation production schedule, much like the kind that guided my rehearsal process when I was working as a professional actress. Byproduction schedule, I mean a calendar of specific tasks that takes into account the three main components of producing an effective presentation: Content development/creation; rehearsal; and delivery/completion.
A production schedule puts the potentially overwhelming process of putting a complex production,project or presentation into a more manageable, less overwhelming format. Here’s an excerpt about production schedules from The Transformational Presence Program Workbook I’m in the process of completing:
“Before the director of a play begins the rehearsal process, he or she determines a production schedule. This includes days and dates earmarked for general rehearsals, set construction, dates by which actors are expected to have learned their lines, and dates and times for dress (full costume) rehearsals and technical rehearsal with finalized lights and sound. For an actor, day one of rehearsal always involves being handed a detailed rehearsal schedule. This rehearsal schedule gives actors a playing field— with parameters— in which to create and ultimately finesse their work.
With this in mind, I can’t encourage you enough to think like a theatre director by getting in the habit of creating a production schedule for yourself. Working backward from the date of your speaking engagement, determine:
Your start date: When you intend to begin developing the material/presentation
Specific dates and time when you intend to work on creating the material (put them in your calendar and honor them).
A date by which the material needs to be set in stone (slides and supporting material included), so you can begin to internalize it by practicing out loud.
A date by which you need to be “off book”– meaning, you let go of the need to rely on your notes as you speak.
A date (or dates) on which you have a full “dress rehearsal,” with slides, props and wearing your intended wardrobe.
As was often said to me by the brilliant theatre director, Anne Bogart, “there is freedom in the form.” Once you’ve determined the parameters of your production schedule, you can relax into the process and flow of creation, rehearsal and completion.”
That's why I've decided on the Looking ahead at the October 3rd delivery deadline of my upcoming Touch the Sky keynote presentation, I've determined the following production schedule:(Note: To save time and space here, I'm only including the basic benchmarks, not the specific dates and times of the 60-90 minute sessions of writing or rehearsal I've scheduled into my calendar over the next three weeks).
Monday, September 9th: Begin customization of presentation. (Complete five scheduled 90 minute writing/brainstorming sessions between now and September 13th).
Monday, September 16th: Draft of customized presentation completed. (Between now and September 27th, focus is on finessing and rehearsing specific sections of the presentation over six, scheduled 90-minute sessions).
Friday, September 27th: Be “off book”. All materials for audience completed. Run completed presentation out loud on this day.
Monday, September 30, Tuesday October 1st: Final dress rehearsals.
Thursday, October 3rd: Present Touch the Sky at conference!
When I take the time to map out my production schedule, I'm more inclined to actually honor the benchmarks, deadlines and writing and rehearsal appointments I've scheduled for myself. Time is less apt to slip away from me, and I'm be better able to stay focused on creating and rehearsing my presentation, even as I continue to see clients, deliver trainings and otherwise conduct my busy life. I'm also better able to manage my anxiety– because when I take take action, I am less vulnerable to self-defeating thoughts (Remember: Fear cannot hit a moving target). And– perhaps most important of all– I am less overwhelmed by the elephant that is my presentation.
Taking even a few minutes to create a production schedule—and then actually doing what it takes to honor it—will help you master your preparation process and, ultimately, be a masterful presenter. Bite, by bite, by bite.
Stay tuned for the next installment of this series, as I formally launch into the first chunk of my production schedule: Kicking off the creating/customizing process and getting my first draft completed!
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