There’s quite a lot of evidence that we’re very susceptible animals – easily programmed. (My experience is that we’re depressingly almost as easy to train as dogs – and if you do it right that’s pretty easy!) If you’re not sure, just think of how you respond when the phone rings. Think of how you are when you go back and visit your parents… for the longest time I was 18 whenever I went back to my parent’s house. Even at 35 I regressed to how I was when I left ‘home’ … as soon as I got back ‘home’ I started to behave as i had done, way back when.
How can you use this when it comes to presenting? By doing each of the four stages of presenting in different environments where we’re conditioned to think (and act) in different ways.
Getting your presentation ready for your audience is a four stage process. There’s lots of material around (on this site and elsewhere) on the final stage, so we’ll not go into it right now. The four stages are:
- Conceiving – figuring out what you need to say; what the presentation is for; what success looks like; how will you know you’ve succeeded; how will your presentation change your world?
- Creating – designing the content; structuring what you need to say; drafting your slides; refining your slides; editing your presentation
- Rehearsing – getting your delivery sorted out; getting confident in your material by getting to know it
- Delivering – being with your audience! This bit includes follow up, of course, which lots of people forget!
But here’s the big idea for this blog. Each of those four stages should be done in a different physical environment, to make it more likely we’ll do it well. Let’s put it bluntly – an environment that stimulates creative thinking (useful for the Conceiving stage) is likely to be something of a liability when it comes to the next stage.
Conceiving your presentation
The conceiving stage is all about figuring out your presentation. It needs you to be creative and, well… all the cliches about thinking outside the box and so on. You need to start from a clean slate and as yourself killer questions about the very raison d’être for your presentation. At the most basic, the questions are things like “Why should I give this presentation and why should anyone (else) care?”
That means the environment you need to work in should stimulate creative and fresh thinking – we need to be stimulated and think in the very big picture. So what does that environment look like?
The best environments for conceiving presentations are the unusual. I don’t mean bizarre – have you tried to think about a presentation while scuba diving? – but unusual to you.
For example, I often conceive my presentations on trains. It’s a great use of what could otherwise be a limited-productivity environment. The immediate environment changes (it’s a different desk) and the view out of the window is constantly changing.
Cafe-working is a standard part of my life. In part that’s necessity because I need to travel a lot to go to clients around the country and the world but it’s often a choice. If I’ve got a rare week in the office, I don’t stay there all week!
Borrowing a desk in a friend’s office is a great compromise if you can’t work productively in cafes because of the distractions!
If you don’t even want to go that far, try new working background music or even something as simple as changing some of the settings on your computer.
I’ve got a number of different ways of capturing ideas – deliberately. In terms of the pure wisdom of capturing to-do lists etc the advice is to have your ideas all in one place, I know, but in terms of generating ideas, having a range of tools is a handy dirty trick. (Don’t use this for when you need to get into the specifics of designing slides or anything where details matter though – just for stimulating the big picture stuff.)
Creating your presentation
This is the stage when you need to actually get the details pinned down. It’s where you do things like get your slides design; you get your hand-outs written; and you put your presentation notes together. As such the environment you need to work in should make it more likely you’ll be able to pay attention to detail.
Being in the stimulating, different environment that you’ve just used to conceive your presentation is now absolutely the wrong thing. New software is now a distraction. New locations that get your creative juices flowing are a PITA. New music that stimulates your brain’s ‘ideas cortex’ can be positively counter-productive.
What you need here is the familiar so you don’t constantly get tempted by new ideas. What you need here is software you know inside out, so that you don’t have to think about it – leaving you free to work on the finer and finer detail.
In short, what you need to do here is go back to your familiar office.
Rehearsing your presentation
You’ve got two options here, depending on whether you know the presentation venue – or at least the type of venue your presentation is going to be in.
If you know your venue, you should rehearse in something as similar as possible. If you don’t, you should rehearse in a variety of different environments, so that at the very least you don’t get too familiar with presenting in one kind of environment.
I’ve made the decision sound easier than it often is in practice but the principle is sound 😉
Delivering your presentation
You don’t often get much choice here! Go for it – and if you’ve used the right environments in the earlier stages, you’ll be in a much better place to make a better presentation.
Don’t forget the delivery isn’t just in the room – it’s about what you do afterwards to help your audience embed your wisdom in what they do.
Varying environments as you go through your presentation creation process can be pretty useful as a tool. What are your best tips for making the environment work for you?