In a Nutshell:
- Debating the importance of content vs. delivery for presentations is like debating the importance of wheels vs. pedals for bicycles
- Try devoting equal time to your content and your delivery. Experiment and optimise after that
- Do justice to your message with well crafted content; Do justice to your content with well rehearsed delivery
The Age-Old Debate
It often puzzles me why people argue over the value of content (what you say) versus delivery (how you say it). To me, that’s like asking what’s the more important part of a bicycle: the wheels or the pedals? Can you really afford to sacrifice one for the other? Let’s put this debate to bed and agree that we can’t neglect the content or the delivery of our presentations.
The Common Mistake
Despite knowing the importance of both content and delivery, many of us tend to fall into the trap of pouring so much time and energy into developing our content that there’s nowhere near enough time left to “get off-book” and polish our delivery.
Suppose you have two weeks to prepare an important presentation. How much time do spend formulating your message, scripting the key points – or all – of your presentation, creating your visuals, etc.? How much time do you spend editing? When do you finally shift your focus to rehearsal?
I’ve seen people still editing their script and slides on the day of their presentation, sometimes immediately prior! Not surprisingly, the presentations always suffered as a result.
Think of a stage or screen play. The writer(s) will put plenty of time and effort into the script. But does that mean the actors can just pick it up, read it once and deliver an award-winning performance? Of course not. They spend countless hours studying the script, rehearsing, taking notes from the director and rehearsing some more. Each role is a serious undertaking.
When it comes to most presentations, you are the writer, the director and the star!
How much time do you need to rehearse?
There are several factors to consider when planning for rehearsal:
- Performance standards – can you get away with presenting casually (like when introducing a new product to your hardcore fans) or does your speech have to be word perfect (like for a project proposal or investment pitch)?
- Volume and complexity of material – is it a short and simple welcome speech or an in-depth training seminar?
- Individual needs – obviously you’ll need less time for your strengths than your weaknesses
- and so on
Suppose you have two weeks to prepare a 3 minute opening address for an annual conference. How much time are you going to need to write it? How much rehearsal will you need? Personally, I could probably get away with saving rehearsal until just two or three days prior to the event. I’m confident that I could memorise my speech and polish my delivery in that space of time. Perhaps you feel the same way. But what if you had to present in another language? I would need at least three times as much rehearsal!
What if you get invited to give a TED Talk in six months? How would you organise your time then? Maybe it’s a topic you speak on regularly. And your main challenge is not researching or internalising your talk, but trimming it down to under 18 minutes and getting used to the timing. In this case, you might go back and forth between editing and rehearsing until you get it right.
Discover Your Ideal Preparation Ratio
To do justice to your message, you need well crafted content. And to do justice to your content, you need a well polished delivery. To optimise both, you need to allocate your preparation time accordingly.
I don’t claim to know the perfect ratio for you. But I’d suggest starting at a ratio of 1:1. For most of us, that means finalising the content a lot earlier and putting a lot more work into practicing the delivery.
Start at 50% content, 50% delivery and see how it works for you. You can always adjust and experiment from there. The point is: be mindful of the way you go about preparing your presentations. Observe the results and ask yourself, “Could I strike a more effective balance?” With experience and reflection, you will.
What’s Your Ratio?
How much time do you spend on content vs. delivery? What do you think is the ideal ratio? Leave a comment below.