It’s not just in the movies that pilots use a thorough checklist before takeoff, to make sure their craft is all set to fly safely. That happens every day among pilots with major airlines, and even with pilots who fly alone in small planes. One pilot for a charter service said these pre-takeoff checkpoints command his attention every time:
- Set parking brake
- Turn radios off
- Make sure landing gear handle is down
- Have fuel selector set on proper tank
- Check circuit breakers
- Measure fuel quantity
The pilot considers the checklist a recipe for success. So completing the checklist brings not only safety but confidence and serenity as well.
Switch the focus now to occasions when you are going to speak. Just like a pilot, you’re in charge. To assure success, you won’t rely on just hoping the details work out all right. In advance, you will list what needs to be done, and you will follow the list relentlessly until you have checked off every entry as completed.
Consider the following important starting points for your list—then add other to-dos you feel you must include.
Bring an extra copy of the introduction you have written for your host. Why? Although almost all of your hosts will pack the copy you e-mailed them weeks ago, sometime somebody is sure to forget your intro. Rather than having to hastily scribble your bio and topic description on any piece of paper you can grab, you will look more professional when you hand over the spare copy. More importantly, you will guarantee that your host will describe you to the audience in the way you prefer.
If you’ll display PowerPoint, load the show onto at least three thumb drives, packing them in different pieces of luggage. But didn’t you e-mail the program to the meeting planner weeks ago? Yes, but as with your written introduction you want backup copies. Your audience will not be aware that you brought several replicas along, but they will be completely aware—to your discredit—if you didn’t bring enough.
For your PowerPoint’s remote control, find out how far you can roam from the screen without losing the ability to advance the program. Also, put fresh batteries in the remote and keep another new set close by.
Check the seating arrangement. Let’s assume you want audience interaction. Don’t settle for classroom style, with audience members facing the backs of the people sitting in front of them. That setup stifles interaction. Politely request round tables seating 6-8 people, a setup that encourages even shy attendees to vocalize their opinions.
Get familiar with the microphone. Have your host or an available technician test the sound level, with you speaking in a conversational tone. Iron out kinks, such as a loud ringing echo or crackling sounds.
If you will refer to written notes other than your PowerPoint, condense them into a format that will fit your pocket or purse—such as one side of a regular mailing envelope. As you can guess from earlier recommendations, you will gain peace of mind by practicing overkill. Put one copy in your brief case, one in your clothing, and one in a suitcase.
Prior to the session, ask your host to remind participants to shut down their phones, beepers, pagers, and other electronic devices. While she is giving that instruction, see whether you have silenced your own gadgets. You’re as likely to forget as anyone else, but your embarrassment would be greater than an audience member’s if yours ring or beep during your own presentation.
As I suggested at the outset, use these recommendations to build your own checklist, adding other steps you consider vital. Soon you will feel as protected as the pilot who goes through his checklist as though his life depended on it, which of course it does.