“Final”: The one word that can ruin your presentation

Josh Lord, MBA

This post is authored by guest blogger Josh Lord, MBA. Josh is director of membership and strategic initiatives for the Michigan Dental Association. Email: jlord@michigandental.org

Tricking myself into believing the first, second, ninth, or right-before-the-deadline version of my recent Ignite presentation was my “last and best” effort almost ruined the most important public speaking appearance of my life.

I recently had the opportunity to be one of 11 keynote speakers during the Ignite event at the Michigan Society of Association Executives’ annual conference, OrgPro. Thanks to Aaron, I was asked to kick off the inaugural session, speaking first to a group of about 125 attendees, not to mention thousands (I’m sure) of un-named onlookers who were able to catch the talks via the live stream that MSAE had set up. As someone who has always dabbled in public speaking since I took first place in fourth grade for my “When I Grow Up” speech, I’ve always prided myself on delivering a thoughtful, engaging message – usually via a first, or nearly first, draft presentation.

In fact, I’ve always used my first-to-finish mindset coupled with the knowledge that my initial attempts typically rank in the top of the pack as a security blanket for justification that I never, or rarely, needed to go back through and measure twice before cutting once (as my father would always tell me). This (false) sense of confidence has always applied to writing, crafting presentations, reviewing balance sheets, etc. (In fact, I’ve yet to even look  back at what I wrote at the start of this post – maybe I’ll do that later…)

When Aaron first reached out to me about speaking during the Ignite event, I was so pumped about the opportunity that I started working on my slide deck that very day. This would have been appropriate, but since MSAE had yet to formally vet and accept my presentation proposal, maybe I had gotten a little ahead of myself. But, of course, I was confident that I would be selected, so I went forward knowing that I would crank out a slide deck, check it off of my to-do list, and then worry about practicing for the talk for the next 2.5 months.

But, a funny thing happened the night after I got done putting together the draft of my presentation (20 slides with 20 images with a message that I thought was coherent).  While walking my dog and thinking about my “final” presentation, I realized there were gaps in my speech. And, with only five minutes allotted to deliver an ah-ha message to the largest gathering of association professionals in Michigan, I couldn’t afford to miss a beat, or leave a gaping hole.

I returned to the office the next day and started working on V 2.0. Then, with deeper thought and analysis, V 3.0-V 9.0. Within days of analyzing what I thought was my “final” draft, I had revised my presentation several times.

I walked into our first Ignite dress rehearsal in mid-June knowing that my ninth version would be my golden ticket to Ignite success. I was comfortable with the content, with the order, with my delivery, and with my transitions. Within the first 15 seconds of getting feedback from my fellow Ignite newbies, I realized there would be at least a tenth version – if not more. A few weeks later when I returned to speak in front of my peers for our last/final dry run, I realized V 10.0 would end up becoming V 11.0 (at a minimum).

As I kept returning to the drawing board, something I wasn’t used to doing as a Type A, get-everything-on-my-to-do-list-done-now-so-I-can-move-on kind of professional, I realized that for years I had been missing out on opportunities to refresh my message and hone it in just the right way so that I could establish a direct connection with every audience member on at least one occasion. For the first time I recognized that “final” never really can, or should, be “final” until the absolute last moment.

I kept making changes to my presentation until the day before it was due to MSAE for incorporation into their master slide deck. And, I was the better off for it. Now, I did cut myself off from editing with enough time to spare so I could officially focus my attention on practicing my delivery, but not a moment before I could squeeze in my last point to make an impact.

When all was said and done, I had drafted 16 versions of a single presentation that 2.5 months earlier I thought I had wrapped up after Draft 1, and even before I was told that I’d be speaking at the event.

Based on my experience, here are some things to consider when you think your presentation, analysis, letter, etc. is in its “final” form:

  • Have you even considered editing what you’ve prepared? Have you allocated enough time for thoughtful self-editing?
  • Who, besides you, has looked at the content? (Note: Family and friends don’t, or shouldn’t, count!)
  • Have you addressed all of the potential questions that could arise after listening to or reading your piece? How do you know you have?
  • Are there apparent gaps between thoughts and themes? Is there more than one theme?
  • Do your metaphors and generalizations speak to everyone in the target audience(s)?
  • Do your images resonate with everyone in your target audience(s)?
  • How many more weeks/days/hours are between “now” and the deadline? Reasonably, how many more opportunities do you have to make your current version even better?

Now that my Ignite talk is behind me, I’m confident in saying that had I not taken the time to review what I thought was final over, and over, and over again, my talk would have been mediocre at best. As someone who never accepts mediocrity, and certainly doesn’t want to be labeled as such by others, I’m thankful that I spent as much time re-working final versions until I got it just right.

My question to you is this: Why is it that we are so confident in our skills that we become our own worst enemies and miss out on the chance to create something much better than we could have imagined all because we accept “final” as just that?

P.S. I did re-read this post in its draft form, at least once.

3 Responses to ““Final”: The one word that can ruin your presentation”

  1. July 31, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Great post about the creative process and the value of editing!

  2. July 31, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    Thanks, Angela! I agree.

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meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Digital content manager. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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