How to Take the Risk of Being Unprepared

March 13, 2015

take the risk of being unprepared

My number one advice to my clients and audiences who suffer anxiety and nervousness about speaking is to prepare better. Many speakers know this, but either aren’t willing to take the time to prepare or don’t actually know how to prepare properly.

However, there are times when a speaker would like to be prepared, but for reasons beyond her control, is not able to; for example, those times when you’re asked to fill in for someone who can’t be there, or your boss requests your presence on a panel discussion at a moment’s notice. We’ve all given last-minute presentations. And they can be done effectively, even with minimal preparation.

While I don’t advocate giving presentations without preparation, there are times when we have no choice, so let’s just address that. I had a client ask me once, “How do I take the risk of being unprepared?” I loved his phrasing it that way, because yes – it is a risk to give a presentation with no preparation.

You risk looking like you don’t know what you’re talking about. You risk losing the audience’s attention and respect. You risk completely bumbling your way through the talk and wasting your audience’s time.

But it doesn’t have to be that way!

There is still some preparation you can do that will make a world of difference to your audience’s experience. Here are three tips for those times when you don’t have the time and you don’t have a choice.

  1. Do your research – Take whatever time you do have to find out who’s going to be in the audience. Is this a crowd who already understands the topic, or is this a crowd who is new to what you’ll be talking about? Do they need a general overview, or will they prefer more detail? The more you can find out about who’ll be in the room, the better you can meet their needs, even on short notice.
  1. Engage the audience – The best way to take pressure off of yourself in a last-minute presentation is to get the audience involved. Don’t know what they already know? Ask them questions! Have a problem to be solved? Have them partner with the person next to them for a brainstorming session. Want to make the most of the experience in the room? Instead of telling them what you know, ask them to share what they know. Reduce your own need to come up with content by making use of the expertise in the audience. Hint: This is a good thing to do in any presentation!
  1. Let it go – Let go of the need to give a perfect performance. Let go of the need to be perfectly prepared. And let go of the fear of not doing a good job or messing up. Make it about delivering the best value and serving the audience to your best ability in that moment, working with what you have, and you’ll do fine! Speaking without preparation is indeed risky, but the reward for just the right kind of preparation can be great.
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About The Author

Public speaking coach and trainer Lisa Braithwaite mentors entrepreneurs and professionals to deliver memorable and engaging presentations, so they can build their businesses through speaking. Before launching her coaching, speaking and training business in 2005, she was an advocate, educator and trainer in Santa Barbara for sixteen years, creating and implementing programs, curricula, and training materials for nonprofit organizations. She received her B.A. in Theater from Pomona College and her M.A. in Education from UC Santa Barbara. She has been interviewed for The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Men’s Health Magazine, the Santa Barbara News-Press, and on, and her blog, Speak Schmeak, is one of the top public speaking blogs on the Web, according to Guy Kawasaki's Lisa’s philosophy is that public speaking is fun, it's a perfect way to express yourself creatively, and that authenticity and passion are worth more than a thousand techniques.

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