When you’re preparing for a presentation, whether it’s a quarterly earnings call, an internal announcement, or a college commencement speech, you’re focused on coming across as the utmost authority on your topic. You want to look and sound in control, assuring your audience that you know what you’re talking about and have the experience, power, and knowledge to back up your message or follow through on your promises.
So how do you demonstrate that kind of authority?
Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a newcomer to the stage — whether you’ve presented this topic 1,000 times or you’ve just learned about it, yourself — projecting authority comes down to one thing: preparation.
You Will Never Be As Effective if You Wing It
You’ve got too much going on…
You’ve given this talk before…
You know the subject like the back of your hand…
We all find plenty of reasons to skimp on preparation, but they all lead to the same end: a mediocre talk. Even if you’re the number one expert on your topic, even if you’ve spoken in front of thousands of audiences in your life, winging it means leaving money on the table.
The rule of thumb is one hour of prep work for every minute on stage. But even one rehearsal session, according to executive communication expert Briar Goldberg, will enable you to deliver a far stronger presentation than you could give on the fly. Of course, she adds, more is better. But this should come as good news when you’re short on time.
For more preparation tips, check out our research on how rock stars, pro athletes, and politicians approach practice.
If You’re Ready for Your Talk, You’re Ready for the Hot Seat
A critical part of preparing for a presentation is framing your message for your audience. This means considering the experiences and perspectives they’ll bring into to the room and predicting listeners’ most pressing questions so you can be sure to address them.
A side effect of all this critical thinking is that once you’ve studied your message from every angle, you’ll be ready to address any pushback or concerns that arise. This is especially important if your presentation includes a formal Q&A session. But even if it doesn’t, diligent prep work will ensure you’re ready for anything your audience throws at you.
To read more about preparing with audience questions in mind, read Briar Goldberg’s advice on staying cool in the hot seat.
Your Audience Deserves Your Respect
Finally, Goldberg emphasizes that every single audience member has taken time out of his or her busy day to invest in what you have to say, and if you show up unprepared, you’re not reciprocating that favor.
If you’re stumbling over your words or searching for your next points, or if you’re giving the same speech you gave on another stage last week, your audience will begin to think they’re wasting their time. Your bio might demonstrate your authority, but if your audience wasn’t engaged or felt slighted, they might not show up the next time you speak
So the key to embodying authority on the podium, then, is not power or expertise but humility. The humility to recognize that you can’t have the effect you want without serious preparation — the humility to respect your audiences enough to repay the favor of their attention by delivering a well-considered message that is tailored to their unique needs and concerns.