Should I Just Wing It or Do I Need To Prepare by Peter Dhu

When you get asked to speak at a meeting, be a guest speaker at an AGM, or be asked to share your expertise at a conference, you may consider turning up and winging it without preparation. After all, you are an expert on the topic.

This is something I often get asked about: “Is it OK to wing it?”, “Should I just rock up and present unprepared?”, “I can talk about this topic in my sleep, and I don’t need to prepare”.

And it seems that the rationale for people asking me these questions and thinking that it is OK to wing it is that: 

– They know their content well and don’t need to prepare.

– They have done this presentation many times before.

– It is only a short presentation 10 or 15 minutes long.

– It is a free presentation, and they are not being paid.

So surely, it is OK just to turn up and wing it, right?

No, it is not OK to wing it, and, in my experience, winging it increases your chance of falling flat and not getting your message across. Personally, I would never recommend or coach anyone to just turn up and wing it. Just winging it is setting yourself up for failure and it will disappoint your audience and your clients.

I live by the saying that “Prior Preparation Prevents Pathetically Poor Presentations”. This rule of thumb is also known as the 6 Ps of Public Speaking. This is why I always prepare for my presentations, even if I have done them many times before.

Why you should NEVER wing a presentation

Here are 4 reasons why you should prepare well and never wing a presentation or public speaking event. 

  1. Cultural nuances

Every audience will be slightly different in their cultural expectations, and we need to be able to adjust the way we speak to them. We need to use culturally appropriate language and be aware of the values they would consider normal and appropriate. In my public speaking around Australia, wherever I go, I research and find out who the traditional landowners are so that I can respectfully acknowledge them.

  1. Different audience expect different messages

One of the keys to effective public speaking is to engage your audience. And one of the best ways to do this is to share stories, anecdotes, and examples that they can relate to. I call this “walking in your audience’s footsteps.” The stories and examples that I use when working with the mining sector are different from those I use when working with the health sector. The stories and examples that I tell when speaking with a disability services provider are different to the stories I use when speaking to accountants and financial planners.

  1. Setups and equipment vary from place to place

On many occasions, I have seen a speaker arrive 10 minutes before their presentation, and the room is full of eager audience members anticipating a great presentation. Then the presenter takes 15 to 20 minutes trying to work out how to connect their laptop to the data projector, or they can’t get an internet connection, or the speaker system does not work when they play their video. They muddle around for a while, look disorganised, and finally, if they do get it working, start late.

4. Room size and set up

The set up including size, lighting, temperature, and seating varies from room to room. So good preparation would be to always turn up early and thoroughly learn the layout and settings within the room. I have been in a room that is getting far too hot and the presenter says, “Does anyone in the room know how to adjust the air conditioning temperature?” Or they stand up and start their presentation by saying I don’t need to use the PA system because I have a big booming voice and the audience down the back shouts out, “sorry we can’t hear you.” Clearly, these scenarios make you look unprepared, unprofessional, and as if you do not care about your audience.

My advice is never wing it and do as much as you can to prepare and have your backup plans and strategies to recover and keep going when things go wrong. Remember, preparation allows you to cover all bases when public speaking. If you want to learn more about 

Improve your public speaking and presentation skills by joining my Winning Presentation Skills workshop in Karratha on 13 June. The workshop will prepare you to present confidently and effectively, ensuring that you have maximum impact and that your message is heard and understood.

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