Seven ways to prepare for a major presentation at work

As a key part of my job I do a lot of speaking. I average over 100 talks a year for the last seven to eight years.

I speak at large conferences in Asia that can have thousands of people in attendance, through to running annual programs for CEOs and their executive teams.

And last week I had an epiphany.

On a 'Check In' phone call with a group of salespeople, a colleague called Vance said he'd noticed his average heart rate was 10 to 15 beats a minute higher the night before a major presentation than on an average day. "My Fitbit also tells me my sleep quality is much worse (fragmented with lots of awake periods) and the morning of my talk I feel tired and fatigued, that's before I even start".

My epiphany

I use to be like Vance. And while I didn't have a fancy piece of wearable tech when I started doing lots of speaking, I flashed back to how nervous I use to be before a big keynote and to how fatigued I'd feel after a 60 minute presentation.

And now?

While I still experience positive nerves when I speak (if you don't that's a sign to get a new vocation), without being super conscious of the process, I've obviously worked out an approach to help me get into the right performance start before a talk, and managing my energy and my nerves so I don't crash after each presentation either.

Vance and a group of his colleagues arranged a follow up session with me a few weeks later and we went through an overview of what I have learned to do the day before, the morning of, and the time just before a big presentation to ensure I deliver at a high level every time, and to also manage my body and brain throughout the year.

The day before the talk

1. Cut back on alcohol

I know a number of salespeople/speakers who go away for presentations and go out the night before and consume way more wine than they should. My rule before a big talk is only one or two standard drinks the night before a big event. This keeps me hydrated and sets me up for a restful sleep.


2. Tea with flowers after 3pm

This is one of my standard rules of cutting out coffee after 3pm as caffeine has a half-life of five to six hours (meaning a strong cup of coffee just before bed is still in your system in the early hours of the next morning). After 3pm have herbal teas.

3. Practice a dry run

I always feel much better the morning of a big presentation when I know I have been through the presentation the day before. And my advice, don't rote learn presentations. I find most people work better to a mind map or a set of pictures/models as a running sheet. This also helps you come across as being more relaxed.

And always ask yourself 'who am I speaking to and what will be the biggest take outs/support I can give them?' Prepare for your audience, not for your own ego.

The morning of the talk

4. Exercise and movement

Physical activity is the best way to wake up your body and brain. Moving the body stimulates your energy powerhouse cells (the mitochondria) and wakes everything up. Even before a 6.30am segment on ABC News Breakfast I get up and do an easy walk and some push ups to awaken my body. Moving is also a good way to distract yourself from obsessing over the presentation and getting some much needed psychological disconnection.

5. Mind the gaps

Don't fill up every spare moment before the presentation with email, social media, meetings, etc. Doing a big presentation requires a lot of energy (physical and mental) so make sure you manage your energy before the presentation. As a basic rule, I free up the 90 minutes before a big talk to give me time to mentally get in the right state.

Just before the talk

6. 30-minute shutdown

I have a set routine that I always follow here. Arrive at the venue 30 to 45 mins before your starting time and I always shut down my phone 30mins before I go on stage to ensure I am not distracted by a text message, email, phone call from a family member or a friend. And another great tip, slow, comfortable breathing to make sure you don't get too amped up.

After the talk

7. Time to network

Schedule a good 60 to 90 minutes for networking and set aside specific time to review your presentation (I advise getting a journal to write this in). Ask yourself what worked well, and what parts of the presentation would you change next time you do it?

This post-presentation reflection piece is a really important part of improving your speaking skills. Having a buffed before getting back into the 'real world' also gives your body and brain a chance to settle down (back into parasympathetic nervous system) and to recalibrate. I often go for a slow walk after a big presentation to help with this.

Public speaking can be a great way to connect with a much wider audience, sell your products or services and build your/your company's brand. It can also be a way to put a lot of stress on your body and cause you to feel run down and fatigued. Managing your state before and after presentations is a proven way to help you sustain performance throughout the year and enjoy the rewards speaking in public can bring.

How to you prepare for a high-pressure presentation? Let us know in the Comments section. ​

Workplace performance expert Andrew May is a Partner at KPMG Performance Clinic, a best-selling author and keynote speaker. He has spent the past 20 years helping business leaders and their teams improve performance, productivity and wellbeing.

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