Congratulations! You or your firm made it to the short list. It’s between you and who-knows-how-many other folks who do the voodoo you do.

Woo-hoo! Let the fun begin.

Or maybe not?

You may have anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours to give your presentation. Ugh. How do you convince anyone of anything in 30 minutes?

You may have anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks to create and rehearse your presentation. Rehearse? You mean “talk about it in the car on the way over.”

Input? If it’s a team presentation, and you’re in charge of pulling the pitch together, you may get anything from a deer-in-the-headlights stare to gigabytes of bullet points from the presentation team. You want me to cut and paste your bios from the web site? You mean the ones that would bore even your mothers?

Take heart. You can bring order to the chaos caused by the upcoming client interview, especially when you understand what chaos is made of.

Chaos is made of stuff. It’s all the stuff we know, all the stuff we want to say, think we should say, were told we had to say or have always said in the past and will always need to say in the future.

We have a lot of stuff. Too much. Here’s what you need to do first:

Sort Your Stuff

You’ll always have too much stuff. That’s a given. So you need to sort it out.

What exactly are you going to keep in your presentation? What will you say first, next and last so that it’ll have the most impact? How will you say or present it to your client?

Answer those three questions, and there – you’ve sorted out the three crucial parts or decision points of every single presentation ever made or yet to be made on the planet:

1. Content

2. Structure

3. Delivery

Let’s break down what each of these mean:

Content is what you cull from all the stuff you could say but know you can’t or shouldn’t say. You need to go from too much stuff to the right stuff. You need to decide the most compelling and important parts, the ones that’ll get you the result you want.

Structure is the blueprint of your presentation. It organizes your content into a compelling flow. How do you open, close, and keep the pace in the middle? When do you give them the facts and details? Which facts? How many details? What about stories, examples, case studies? Dare you inject humor? Answer those questions and your presentation now has the building blocks of strong structure.

Delivery is about making the presentation. Will the team stand up or sit down? Will they depend on PowerPoint or use it to punctuate? How do you get Bob to stop pacing, Mary to stop talking with her hands and Rick to lighten up a little? You know, the things that many people peg as “presentation skills.”

That’s it. Whether you’re pitching new business in a client interview, presenting a paper at an industry conference or asking someone out on a date, that’s what you’re dealing with. Those three parts: content, structure and delivery.

Here’s a huge mistake that many people make. They skip sorting their stuff into those three parts and get all verklempt over the delivery aspect of the interview.

They fire up PowerPoint – first thing, before the coffee’s even ready. They focus on the performance and fuss over staging, graphics, visual aids, transitions and timing. They forget about the content and structure. It’s all about the delivery to them.

Don’t be that person.

Sort out your stuff, please. Separate your content and structure from your delivery. When you do, you and your team will be pleasantly surprised by how much better (and easier) the entire performance part goes. Here’s why:

Once you know which stuff to use (content), how and in what order you’re going to use it (structure), delivering it almost takes care of itself. (Whew.)

True story!

Many clients tell me that once they sorted their stuff and focused their content around a clear message using a simple structure to support it, making the actual presentation wasn’t such a big deal. Practically a cinch.

In fact, some people said that once they knew what their content was and in what order they’d say it, they couldn’t wait to deliver their part of the interview.

With compelling content and a clear structure, it’s amazing how comfortable—and convincing—you and your people become.

You might actually say, “Woo-hoo!”

And mean it.

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