7 steps to beating presentation procrastination

Seven simple ideas to beat procrastination. Don’t read later. Read now!

by Peter Watts

Procrastination is putting off a task we don’t want to do today, so that it can become a task we want to do even less tomorrow. Creating the opportunity to speak in public for example.

Ask any accomplished presenter and they will say that the sure-fire way to becoming accomplished is to get out there and practice, as often as possible. Presentations seldom seek us out.  To win those opportunities we have to create them, and that’s often a task we feel we can safely shelve for another day.

The first step to beating procrastination is to recognize that WE are the only people standing in the way of making the future happen.

Once that step is taken, here is the plan for beating the procrastination cycle:

  • Break the challenge down into logical tasks; Task one, task two, task three, and so forth. Task one for example, might be creating a list of your possible opportunities to speak. Task two might be building a list of the people you need to contact. Create a road map of those steps, and set out on them one by one. Assign deadlines for when tasks will be accomplished.
  • Starting out on the task can feel like the hardest part. As the Chinese saying goes: “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”  Take that first foot-step and you’ll find that the second becomes easier. Movement builds momentum.
  • Seek out a mentor, someone who understands your goals and would be willing to nudge and nag you towards success.
  • Schedule tasks for appropriate times of the day. For example, gathering materials or contact names might be something you can do in low-energy moments after lunch, while creative work is better done while you are fresh in the morning.
  • Set out the tools. I personally procrastinate about building PowerPoint presentations, but if a client wants me to supply one, then my first step is to simply open PowerPoint on my laptop. If I don’t do this, it’s amazing how many other things I’ll be able to find to do instead, such as checking email. Once PowerPoint is open though, I’ve started the task, and design time is more likely to follow.
  • Celebrate your successes along each step. Rewards are a great way to get yourself doing something you don’t want to do. What can you treat yourself to as a reward for getting each task done?

Procrastination is the force that holds us back. Beat procrastination, and wonderful things are free to happen.

How many PowerPoint slides should I have?

by Peter Watts

When people feel they need something to be really big, you have to wonder if they’re compensating for something.

Let’s take super-sized slide-decks for example. What hidden inadequacies might all that PowerPoint be trying to hide?

If your megabytes are bulking into gigabytes, take a moment to check that you’re not compensating for something:

Inadequate preparation?
Presenting direct from an unmodified standard slide-deck of a couple of hundred catch-all slides is a sure-fire sign of a presenter who did no more preparation beyond bringing their power chord.

Inadequate confidence?
When in doubt, leave nothing out! Going into battle armed with every single slide you can possibly find is a frequent clue that you don’t know your message.

Inadequate audience understanding?
If you don’t understand the audience, it’s awful hard to meet their needs. The one-size-fits-all maxi-presentation is the inevitable response.

Inadequate product knowledge?
When you don’t know your product, the slides have to do the work for you; after all, you’re relying on them for all the information.

Inadequate skills?
Giant-sized PowerPoints are no compensation for mini-sized skills. Competent presenters tame slide-decks down to manageable proportions. Really skilled presenters hardly use slide-decks at all.

Consistently strip your slide decks down to reveal their messages, or audiences might start stripping you down to reveal what you’re hiding.

Check the amount of talk-time that each slide is giving you. Good working slides will sustain you for at least three minutes of talk-time. As you grow in experience, each slide should be capable of sustaining you for ever longer periods:

  • Beginner: Three minutes
  • Intermediate: Five minutes
  • Pro: Seven minutes
  • Über-Pro: Who needs slides?

As your confidence levels develop, try having sections of your presentation where you switch off the slides altogether and talk directly to your audience.

How many PowerPoint slides should you have? As few as possible.

Simple preparation rituals can power presentation energy

How do you psyche yourself up to your best achievement levels?

by Peter Watts

If you’re Rafael Nadal, about to win your sixth French Open tennis tournament, then the process looks a little like this:

  1. Push hair behind left ear
  2. Push hair behind right ear
  3. Knock heel of left shoe with tennis racket
  4. Knock heel of right show with tennis racket
  5. Scuff three steps sideways to the left along the back-court line
  6. Scuff three steps sideways to the right along the back-court line
  7. SERVE!

Athletes and sports-teams all have their own unique pre-performance rituals that they repeat before that first all important move onto the field.

For some, like the New Zealand All-Blacks rugby team, those rituals are dramatically overt, designed to both psyche the athlete and to intimidate the competition. For others, like Nadal, they are simply habitual actions that have become mentally linked to success.

Presenting is a performance sport. You too are on the field before an audience; You too have adrenalin flowing as if entering the Olympics; You too can benefit from pre-performance rituals.

Rituals connect you to a feeling of success. I know many presenters who have mantras that they quietly repeat to themselves, or use specific breathing techniques to get into the zone. I myself have the habit of quietly placing together my thumb, index finger, and middle finger in an accupressure position for a few quiet seconds before I present. Over years of repetition I now associate this simple hand movement with entering my calm-zone ahead of speaking. Nobody can see me do it, and the ritual’s associative power puts me exactly where I need to be before I go onstage.

Avoid rituals that rely on external objects such as the famous “lucky tie”. Think for example of the stories we hear about leading singers who couldn’t perform because there weren’t exactly five pink carnations to the left of their dressing room mirror, or someone forgot to remove the blue M&M’s from the candy bowl. These rituals fail because they rely on external objects or other people.

The guidelines for effective pre-presentation rituals are simple:

  • based on affirmations, minute gestures, breathing techniques, or visualizations that you can always summon when needed.
  • can be performed quietly and immediately without the outside world being aware of them
  • quick and simple, taking no longer than 3 – 5 seconds
  • effective in bringing you to the required performance state for the task at hand

If you don’t already have a pre-performance ritual of your own, try experimenting. The best time to adopt one is immediately after a successful presentation. In that moment when you are experiencing the endorphin rush of success, try to anchor that wonderful sensation with your own conscious ritual. Repeat the process at a later time, and you’ll feel the echo of the endorphins once again powering through your system and powering you out onto the stage.

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