Presenting is like gardening. When I plant something in my veg patch there are a lot of things that determine whether it grows (or grows well). There’s the quality of the plant (my presentation preparation and content); there’s how well I actually do the planting (my presentation delivery); there’s the quality of the soil (is my audience receptive?); there’s the question of the season (have I hit the audience at the right time in their lives to be receptive); and there’s luck (have I just planted at the start of a long dry spell – AKA will the fire alarm go off in the middle of my presentation?!?).
You can give the best presentation in the world, but sometimes it doesn’t work. At points like that it’s tempting to blame the audience, but the truth is that even if things are conspiring against you there are things you can do to make it less of a risk. Just like a gardener.
So what can a presenter learn from being a gardener (and I should add I’m a rubbish gardener!)?
Fertilising the soil – preparation of your presentation
A good gardener will (I’m told, I’m rubbish at this) prepare the soil. They’ll break the large clods down and add fertiliser and so on. What can you do as a presenter that’s like this?
How about checking with your audience beforehand about what they want (and what the need because the two aren’t the same thing, often!) How about finding out what examples will resonate with them because of their backgrounds? What about slipping in something in the marketing or preparation for the presentation that explains why the presentation is important to your audience so they want to be there. And if it isn’t useful to your audience, why are you making them come? (Isn’t it better to present to the five people who want to be there rather than those five people plus 25 bored conscripts?)
And something that’s often overlooked… just like a serious gardener will not only remove weeds and even chop off overhanging tree branches to let in light… a serious presenter will likewise try and remove competition for their attention. Background noise? Turn it off. Mobile phones? Have them turned to airplane mode. Too cold? Turn the heating up? People walking past? Close the blinds.
You get the idea, I’m sure.
Planting out – delivering your presentation
This is actually delivering your presentation in the room. I’ll not talk about this much here. There are literally hundreds of articles on this site!
Watering in, weeding and the boring bits – following up from your presentation immediately
Pretty much immediately after the planting is done, a good gardener applies lots of water. As a presenter, the things that match this are things like immediate follow-up. Obviously you’ll not be providing hardcopy of your slides (because good slides make bad handouts) but you can provide a follow-up email of some specially written material to provide the back-up details for your presentation. Or what about a quick example of what you were talking about in your presentation when you see it happening ‘in the real world’ over the next couple of weeks.
Think about it, would you be more likely to apply what you’ve heard in a presentation if you were reminded of how it matters for a few days or weeks afterwards?
Personally I have sometimes got some of these set up before I start, but I’m a devious, Machiavelian bastard. 🙂 It’s not 100% automated of course, but as part of the preparation of the presentation I sometimes rough-draft a couple of emails so that when the time comes I’m ready to go more easily. Trust me on this, it’s remarkably easy to forget to follow-up after an email when you’re back in the day to day! This little tip helps hugely.
Sticks not stones – following up your presentation in the long term
Just like a young plant often needs a support, a young presentation often needs some support.
As a presenter there are equivalent things you can do. For example if you’re suggesting a new way of doing things why not consider providing a cheat-sheet or template or something similar? That way it’s more likely that your new ideas will get embedded. Why not offer some follow-up support by email, or Skype or even live! Long term follow up makes it more likely that whatever you’re working on survives.
For example, I offer anyone who comes on my live training
- free and unlimited support for two months after they’ve been in the room with me
- occasional emails with smart ideas and helpful stuff – from the point of view of the other person, not me!
- copies of some white-papers and eBooks to provide detailed information about how to do the things I suggest in my live workshops.
So what do you think?
Is presenting (and training?) a bit like gardening?
And if it isn’t, is that because the analogy fall down or because the whole idea of what you should do as a presenter is wrong? 😉