I just completed a talk that I presented this past January and I am working on another one for this March. The January lecture was my eleventh or twelfth talk and it took me a bit to figure out what works best for me. When I say took me a bit, I mean I kept doing something that obviously did not work for me – over and over again. Due to my stubbornness, I have given some rough talks.
SO, what is this issue that took me far too many talks to realize? Talking without a script. My partner is incredibly charismatic and is able to just start talking in a crowd, me not so much. I get in front of people and talk really fast and do not unpack or develop the world/research I am attempting to present. While I practice and can get 40 minutes without a script, once I am behind the podium I talk really quickly and then I am done in 20 minutes. At one talk, I stopped and stared at the clock behind me for like 5 minutes to try and register how long I had been talking… and it was only about 15 minutes. When giving talks, they should normally be around 45 minutes.
At the only conference that I have presented at, I had 20 minutes to present a 20 page paper, which would have taken about an hour to read, if I read the entire paper as it was. I went through the paper and edited it to an appropriate length to fit the time window I had to present. Under the guidance of a professor, I practiced reading my paper and timed myself to ensure I did not go over time. When I presented, everything went perfectly! But for some reason that I am unsure of, I did not keep with this pattern of writing out my talk and reading it at future presentations.
I struggled with not using a script, which did not suit my abilities, for too many talks. For some unknown reason I associated reading a script with doing a dry presentation that lacked pizazz and excitement but ultimately me speed talking and being unclear because I was stumbling over my thoughts was in no way a decent presentation, but that seemed to be more okay with me. How did I figure out that it was time to finally return to writing a script you ask? Well, the realization finally beat me over the head at one of my workplace’s speaker series event. The speaker was someone who always appeared to be a little quieter to me from my experiences interacting with them. I was blown away by their presentation, it had pizzazz and humor – it was a great presentation and all done with a script.
In that moment the lightbulb came on in my head and I decided that it was time to start using a script. At that time, I was in the middle of researching for talk that I was invited to present and decided this would be talk where is used a script. I wrote 10 pages double space with bold courier new 12pt font. I also included highlighted notes in the script so that I would know when to change the slides in the slideshow. But also notes for when I would stop reading and analyze images on the screen without reading from the script. The page length took 40 minutes to read and the format made it easier for me to see the words on the paper. The talk went amazingly! It was the first time, other than the conference, where I felt as though I had confidently and more importantly clearly presented my research with all of the pizzazz that I was oh so concerned about. Now I will no longer talk without a script and am confident in my talks.
Now when I prepare for a talk, after I am done researching, I organize a layout – listing the points I want to hit and unpack to answer the larger question or thesis of the topic. I then write out each section but in presentation/talking voice rather than the voice I use when writing a formal article. Sometimes I include maybe a little joke – when it is appropriate, or lighthearted comments, again only when its appropriate. Like previously noted, the format I use when writing a script is 10 pages double space with bold courier new 12pt font because it is easy for me to see, and 10 pages always takes me roughly 40-45 minutes to present.
After the script is completed, I begin to think about images or quotes that I want to use in the presentation. I always use a PowerPoint when giving presentations because, as a visual person myself, seeing things that are being talked about brings the history to life for me. I like to use images of items, photos, newspapers – anything that pertains to the topic or that I can use as an example in the talk. Once the images are chosen, I move through the script and find where the images would fit best throughout the talk and make notes in the script so I know when to change the slides. Lastly, before I do the final presentation, I practice the talk while using the PowerPoint.
Overall, preparing for a talk is different for each person. While somethings work for one person they may not work for others. For example, like I said in the beginning, while my partner gives excellent talks using bullet point notes and does not always use a PowerPoint, I need a fully planned out script. At the end of the day there is no wrong or right way to prepare for a talk, all that matters is that you feel confident in what you’re doing and are fully prepared.