1. The Technical Wizard – You’ve prepared a dazzling PowerPoint, Prezi or Keynote which will blow their socks off. However, you completely rely on it, so if there’s a technical fault, the audience doesn’t get a presentation. All socks remain firmly in place.
  2. The Rambler – You’ve prepared some great material, but you have too much of it and didn’t rehearse properly. You speak without any real focus or passion for your subject, and avoid eye contact with the audience. You deliver an incoherent mess.
  3. The Improv Genius – You effortlessly draw inspirational thoughts from thin air, adapting to the audience with wit, confidence and a lovely big smile. You are nothing less than a presentation god.

I’m guessing that you’re not number 3. But you wouldn’t be, because no-one is. Behind the scenes as the Improv Genius you are in fact a Preparation Genius. Here’s what you do:

The Preparation Genius. You start researching your presentation as soon as possible, throwing every thought, fact and anecdote onto the page, then ruthlessly cut it down to the essentials. You edit and re-edit until it’s beautifully succinct, using clear, everyday language. You use projected material only as a last resort. You rehearse, during which you continue the editing process. You create keywords so that you can deliver the material conversationally without being wooden. You rehearse in front of someone for feedback, and then modify your material and delivery accordingly. You rehearse to the point where you don’t need to worry about the flow of the whole piece, because you are at one with the presentation. When you think about the day that you will deliver it, you are excited but not fearful.

Like the Technical Wizard, the Preparation Genius puts in a huge amount of work beforehand. However, it’s put into refining the material, building the presenter’s familiarity with it and developing a natural style, not creating some flashy tech. Even under the most testing conditions the Preparation Genius can deliver their presentation because their offering is highly adaptable.

You can easily become the Preparation Genius (and consequently look like the Improv Genius). You just have to put in a lot of work.

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Photo: Chris Pirillo speaking at Gnomedex in 2007. Photograph by Kris Krug