Tomorrow, I will stand in a room of people at Bar Camp Boston and talk about content networks. The audience will be primarily really technical people, who know more about networking, hacking, developing, engineering, and everything than me. They will be looking at me with eyes that all engineering crowds give me at presentations: “Who are you? What do you know? How can this be useful to me?”

I owe them a good performance. This post is some of the mental workings that I think are important to consider before giving a presentation. My goal in presenting them to you is that you’ll think about these same points before making your next presentation.

Step One: Consider the Ending- When this presentation is over, I want the people in my audience to be energized, happy, engaged, and thinking about my material. I want them to be excited to think about building content networks themselves. I want them to seek my guidance and participation in helping them form content networks.

With that in mind, I know this: I don’t have to SELL people anything. I don’t have to ask for money. I do have to talk in big vision terms. I do have to give them “call to action” points, such as asking them to visit a certain website, give me email addresses, site addresses, things like that. I have to convince them that I’m intelligent and useful to their plans. Thus, I’ll build my presentation with those themes in mind. I’ve started at the ending. (Hmm… “Habit 2: begin with the end in mind”).

Step Two: Consider the Venue- There are 150 total attendees. I don’t think they will all be at my presentation. I’m guessing 30 or 40. This means I’ll have a decent sized room, but not an auditorium. I can move among them. I won’t have to be stuck to a podium. Should I bother with PowerPoint? I might not.

The venue determines the toolkit. Think of it as a setting for a movie. If you’re watching Jaws, you don’t expect flying saucers. It also determines how I can lay out the presentation’s “feel,” the ambiance of engaging these people to tell them a story. If you think presentations shouldn’t fit the rooms where you give them, reconsider that thought.

Step Three: Consider the Audience- Of course the audience is the most important part of the presentation. You didn’t know that? My audience will be smart. They’ll have their bull$&!t detectors on full blast. They won’t appreciate my natural “not so many diagrams” style of presenting. I’ll have to win them over with being funny. Luckily, when I’m nervous, I’m very funny. (You should see me at a hospital).

The presentation must fit the audience, and you have to really consider what their ears and eyes are trying to pluck from it. If they’re highly technical, tell them in three-letter acronyms how the thing will work, “We’ll use RSS over SOA to make the CMS really drive CPM.” If they’re marketers, tell them, “This content network idea will really add stickiness to sites, drive more interaction and click-through, and push brand value further into the customer base.” Big difference, wouldn’t you say?

Step Four: Build the Presentation- I’m going to be nervous. They’ve alloted me 30 minutes. I know the crowd will be skeptical of me because I’m not a name brand. They’ll wonder if I’m worth their time. I’ll worry that they are going to get up and leave.

With this in mind, I won’t stick to a static PowerPoint presentation. I will use it for some fact-pointing, and I’ll use it for some really colorful backgrounds. I will use humor above all else to try and keep them engaged. But I’ve got a secret weapon. I’m going to hand out parts of my presentation to people in the room (as per a recent post I made here to that effect). I will get them to be part of my act. Build your presentation to take into account everything you’ve considered in the first three steps.

Step Five: Test it Out- I’m far better at improv than I am rehearsal, so I won’t lie to you about that. I like going up there cold turkey and just making the words happen. Sometimes it works really well, and other times, people just stare blankly at me, and I worry that I’ve slipped into another language.

Try at least running through your slides, your notes, whatever you’re going to use as “panic props” for the presentation at least once before you give the presentation. Oh, and if you’re doing something really interactive like a web-based demo, have a backup. Have slides with screenshots that you can use to walk people through. Have all kinds of backup plans in place.

Step Six: Bring Down the House- People love to be reflected in a mirror. I’ve used this trick in nearly every presentation I’ve ever made, and it works every time without fail. Tell them about themselves, and praise them in the process, and you’ll have allies. For as many people that think they’re being played or had or whatever your term, plenty more will be saying, “Wow, Chris really understands me.” I’ll take it.

Be genuine about that. Don’t pretend to love these people. For the duration of the presentation and the follow-up, LOVE these people. Give them every bit of your fiber in this presentation.

Lastly: Q&A- The absolute worst parts of a presentation can be the presenter saying, “Any questions?” and then the wave of tumbleweeds blowing through. Make your way past this disaster-in-the-making by doing one of a few things. Try seeding your audience with a plant or two. “Chris, can you tell me how you fit into the content space?” (Thanks, Mom!) Or, have a few pre-set questions that you can say, “People who’ve heard this presentation before have asked me whether or not to keep their existing blogs. Here’s what I’ve told them.” This will grease the skids a bit, and help with the anxiety of the “spotlight” being suddenly turned on the audience.

And, if you use ANY of this, let me know how it turns out, okay?

–Chris Brogan has written about presentation tricks at Lifehack.org before. In fact, he writes lots about presentation for a guy who doesn’t do it for a living. Drop us a line at tips at lifehack dot org with your best presentation tricks, or visit our forums and chat it up a bit.

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