Jamie and I have been talking a lot about the benefits of having a “presentation buddy”. This is a person who we define as: someone you can ask for feedback and input throughout your planning process. Often people have one person they consistently ask to fill this role, while others will solicit feedback overtime from a variety of sources. Some presenters bounce their ideas off their significant others. That’s cool. We don’t judge your pillow talk, dudes. In some cases, it’s even appropriate for your boss to serve as your buddy. However if you’re going that route, consider that it may not be quite as easy for you to give your boss feedback. So they may need another buddy to assist them with their presentations.
Essentially, we aren’t really picky about the buddy selection process. Whatever works for you works for us. The important thing is to identify someone that is able to provide honest reliable feedback, and it would be really helpful if they could yell things like “Watch out, there’s a big-ass pothole over there. Don’t step in it.” (Thanks for the quote, Jamie). In an ideal world they could also link arms with you, and do the “Laverne and Shirley Walk” down a sidewalk, all the while avoiding said potholes. No? Oh, maybe that’s just my ideal world. Never mind. I never said that.
If you already have a buddy, great news! Please don’t forget to feed them snacks every now and then and give them stickers. Everyone appreciates appreciation. If your buddy is your spouse or partner, you probably have to give them a full meal. If you don’t yet have a buddy, and frankly you aren’t sure if it’s necessary, please read on, little loner. We think we might be able to win you over with our top 5 reasons to go find one as soon as you’re done reading this.
Reason #1 – to quiet doubt and help move you through the idea-generation process
Presentation design is in part a creative endeavor. It also involves taking some risks. Both can be scary, and that fear can prevent some excellent ideas from ever seeing the light of day. If you’re like me, your creative process looks something like this:
- This is an awesome idea. The audience is totally going to get it!
- Maybe this will work, but I am a weirdo so maybe I shouldn’t trust myself.
- This idea is terrible. I don’t know what I was thinking.
- I’m incapable of good ideas, and should stop thinking. I’m hungry.
(Two days and 26 snacks later)
- This idea might be ok, especially if there are fellow weirdos in the audience.
- This is a solid idea, and I am definitely using it.
I experience both idea doubt and self-doubt during the presentation planning process. Both can be paralyzing and painful. However, I no longer fear doubt because I know that as soon as I refine my idea well enough to explain it to my presentation buddy, I’ll have honest feedback that I can trust. Nothing bad is going to happen. I can generate all kinds of ideas without fear of truly embarrassing consequences. In fact, my presentation buddy Jamie has an excellent track record of protecting me from my weird ideas, which once included making and wearing a hat that would look something like this:
(Don’t ask. Long story.)
My presentation buddy also gives me the support I need to follow through on the good ideas. Honestly, some of the best ideas I’ve had were ones I probably would have dropped if it weren’t for Jamie’s input. They were either sort of innovative or completely nuts and I couldn’t tell the difference on my own. I simply wouldn’t have dared to see them through. That’s why my presentation buddy is the first person I’m calling if I find myself on a two-day planning hiatus/snack eating bender. She helps me get back on track and on to step 6, or back on track with a new idea.
Reason #2 – to help refine or improve upon ideas
Jamie and I like to begin by sharing the presentation goal. Then we review the outline, including the key points to be included, as well as the stories, activities, analogies, etc. that will be used to convey them. Then we assist each other in refining those ideas even further. The wonderful thing is that said buddy doesn’t even have to be familiar with your content. There’s actually a benefit to trying to explain your strategy to someone who knows very little about the subject-matter. Your buddy can serve as the test as to whether or not your plan makes sense, and if it will help you achieve your goal.
Here are few sample questions to ask your buddy in order to get the ball rolling:
- Is there extraneous information?
- Is there too much or too little detail?
- Does this make sense?
- What’s missing?
- Did I explain this fully?
- Does the presentation have a logical and clear flow from one section to the next?
- Will I be able to achieve my goal using this strategy?
- Are there any other stories, analogies, images etc. that you think might work?
- Do you think the content is well-matched with the audience?
- What should I wear? (No seriously, this is an important consideration)
Reason #3 – to generate more ideas
Often I can create an outline that is 80% complete, but I need help making connections and pulling it all together. Or perhaps I can’t think of the right analogy, but I really want to use one. That’s when Jamie comes in. She’s naturally good at coming up with analogies. Become familiar with your buddy’s strengths and try to draw from them. Additionally, it’s wonderful to have a fresh set of eyes on the problem. Those eyes can often pick up on things you’ve missed, or help you consider new ways to convey your content.
Reason #4 – to ensure a polished finished product
Buddies can also serve as proof readers, and give feedback about the overall look of the presentation when it’s completed. They can spot typos, and let you know if your slides are easy to read and understand, as well as inviting to audience members.
Reason #5 – because it’s fun
The greatest joy in the presentation work I’ve done to date is to have been able to do much of it alongside Jamie. One of my first exposures to her was at a meeting with about 50 attendees. I surveyed the room and noted people sipping their coffee and bottles of water. Many were taking notes. Someone was knitting (at that time knitting’s popularity was at an all-time high and thus there was always someone working on a scarf at a meeting). Really nothing noteworthy. Just a standard scene. Then there was Jamie. She was sitting a few seats over from me. I glanced over and watched her reach into a backpack. She pulled out a very large carrot and started eating it. Then she offered carrots to all her neighbors, because that’s the kind of gal she is. Over the course of the next hour she pulled out various other fruits and vegetables in their most raw and natural forms and ate those too. I want to say a parsnip appeared, but I am a little foggy on all the produce details as this was several years ago. All I could think was that this person does salad differently. No, this person does life differently. I want to be sitting next to her! Thankfully we sat together at other meetings and gatherings, and eventually we began working together. Present day – the woman is the macaroni to my cheese. We have similar vision, yet many different and complementary assets that when brought together make us a really strong team. We’ve each had good ideas that have been made excellent through collaboration and reliance on the buddy system. There’s also no shortage of laughter and fun – which boost creativity, too.
Bonus Reason: for logistical support
Pictured below is Jamie at a conference. What a peach. She is advancing the slides for another presenter because the projector clicker couldn’t be found. Having someone that can help you out in high-pressure moments on presentation day is pretty cool, too! It’s not always possible – but when and if you can – it sure comes in handy to have that added support. Consider stepping in as someone’s buddy if you see a fellow presenter in a pickle at a presentation. They might really appreciate it.
Likely there are many more reasons that consulting with others can make the load lighter and our finished presentations better, but I can’t think of any right now. Luckily, I have my buddy to help fill in the blanks! Time to go bait her with snacks and stickers, ask her for feedback about my blog post, and talk her into that whole Laverne and Shirley thing.