For the last twenty years, it has been my privilege to learn from some of the worlds most respected scientists and clinicians as they prepare to share their ideas or research findings to colleagues at major conferences and symposia. Many times this means that I work them individually in the final stages of preparation, often only a day or two before the presentation.

Unfortunately, as I listen to many speakers give their talk to me for the first time, I realize how far away they are from being ready. Almost always the problem is the same, and I see it more with experienced presenters rather than novices (because experienced presenters tend to have deeper rooted habits).

The speakers have devoted a great deal of time and effort creating or selecting slides for what they believe is the final presentation, and what they realize when they finally deliver this presentation out loud is that the slides they have so carefully assembled actually tell a different story from the one they know the audience needs to hear. The logic flow that seemed crystal clear in the office becomes impenetrable standing in front of the room, and their premature confidence evaporates as they search for the right word and struggle to remember their next point.

The remedy is simple, but too often overlooked. Say it Out Loud. More specifically, rehearse the introduction to your speech out loud over and over again.

Step back from your slides and introduce your talk as though your audience is sitting in front of you. Tell them what they will take away by the end. Tell them why you think your talk matters (to them, not you). And finally, outline the two or three key facts that you must know on the way to the Point B. The introduction to your talk should take no more than 90 seconds, and you should say it in simple everyday language.

Ask yourself:

  • How did that sound to you?
  • How would that sound to audience?

If you’re still searching for words, you’re not ready.

Does the outline you describe match the story told by your slides? Your introduction can be a “reality check” on the number of slides you use, the order in which you show them, and the level of detail they go into. It’s perfectly acceptable to remove slides or change their order if there’s a mismatch with the introduction.

Keep in mind that you are turning a mental event into an actual communication, and this takes patience and practice. But you will know when you’re ready. Like magic, your confusion will disappear and your confidence will soar. You will have a story that is easy for you to tell, and most important, a story that is easy for the audience to remember.