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How to do a presentation dry run

Alice Bartlett
Oct 30, 2019 · 3 min read

I’ve just run a feedback session for a conference talk I’m giving in two weeks time, so I thought I would share my process for feedback sessions in case it’s helpful for anyone else who is currently deep in the PowerPoint mines.

Put your big girl pants on and ask for feedback

I am actually more nervous in a room of 5 of my colleagues than I am in a conference of 100. You can see the whites of their eyes. You can see them scribbling things down. Is this tanking? Why aren’t they laughing at that joke you just made? Do they hate this?

The reason I put myself thought this is because I have never run one of these sessions and not gotten some incredibly valuable feedback. The point of giving a talk is to communicate an idea, the best test for how well you’ve done is to actually run through your talk and see if you’ve successfully communicated anything.

Discover the problems before you do it live

Besides finding issues in your content, the other huge benefit to dry-runs is you find any issues with delivery that you might have skipped over if you were practicing on your own. Pacing, in particular, is different when you have an audience. Maybe you’ll speed up because you’re nervous. Maybe you’ll realise you need time for the audience to finish laughing (depending on the talk!). Maybe you’ll notice that your presenter notes are not quite clear enough.

Get the right people in the room

I try to get a representative sample of my potential audience. My talks are usually to audiences of engineers so I find someone who is quite junior, someone who knows more than I do on my chosen topic, and a few other people who I know are good at giving talks.

Prepare them well

If you’re going to make a group of people sit through your not 100% polished talk, prepare them so you’re not wasting their time, and they’re not wasting yours.

Some tips for this:

  1. Print out your slides so everybody has a copy they can scribble notes on. That way there’s no “umm I had some feedback about that slide… the one after the one with a picture of a turtle on it”. Instead every slide has a number on it, and the thought is associated with the slide that provoked it

Give yourself plenty of time for the feedback

My rule of thumb is, take your talk time, and at least double it. I just ran through a 40 minute talk and even though it was basically nearly finished, getting the feedback and discussing it took another full hour on top of that (thank you so much to my very generous and thoughtful testers!)

Give yourself plenty of time to make the changes

If you’re going to take up your colleagues time with giving you talk feedback, you’d better be damn sure you’ve got enough time to actually make changes to your talk. I find 2 weeks is enough (because I have other work going on)

That’s it! Good luck with your talk — I’m sure you’ll do fine.

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