Can you over-prepare for a presentation?

We‘ve all had the same nightmare. You wake up an hour before your alarm goes off and realize you forgot to prepare for your huge presentation. You frantically race around to room to cram in all the information you can (hopefully to wake up and realize it was all a cruel dream)!

Many of us have had that nightmare turn into reality. Fortunately the driving force of fear can motivate us to thoroughly prepare several nights in a row, belaboring each topic until we are reciting notecards word-for-word in our sleep.

Has anyone ever had the same nightmare but with a twist? You wake up only to realize that you’ve over-prepared and feel like your big presentation is doomed?

Me neither. Sounds almost silly to think, doesn’t it?

Maybe it isn’t…

How can you tell if you’ve fallen into the trap of over-preparation?

What do I mean by “over-prepared”?

Here are 3 signs of a presenter that is over-prepared:

1. Memorized lines

While you need to prepare extensively for your presentation (especially for compliance training, which brings its own baggage – “it’s boring,” etc.), memorizing each topic detail word for word can lead to glazed eyes, forgettable content and major anxiety. Many people think memorizing their speeches will ensure success, but “it’s a terrible idea,” says Dr. Gary Genard, author of “Fearless Speaking.” Reciting a speech from memory gives it a canned quality and distances the speaker from listeners. Additionally, if you suddenly forget one section, you might lose track of what follows, “and suddenly you’re at sea.”

Presenting important information doesn’t have to be boring. Audiences love a storyteller and someone who speaks like a human - not a robot.  Prepare to think, not to read a script. Remember, being memorable doesn’t start with memorization.

2.      Need for perfection

You’ve thought out all possible questions and your responses are planned, even down to your facial expressions. You have the perfect answer for everything. But remember that last great presentation you gave or attended? How did it feel? Probably not like a spelling bee where you’re asked a question and recite the answer staring off into space to remember the perfect response.

A good presentation is candid, flowing, and personal.

Being too concerned about getting every detail right can be paralyzing and lead to even more mistakes. Audiences expect you to be polished but also relatable. Natural reactions and thoughtful responses go a long way to holding an audience’s attention.

3. Presentation is over-scheduled

You’ve rehearsed your presentation so many times that you could place a confident bet in Vegas on the exact time spent on each topic.  You know each bullet point, worked in 3 stale jokes about gifts and entertainment compliance that will result in exactly 5 seconds of awkward silence, and left exactly 5 minutes for questions at the end. Is this helpful?

While you should absolutely have an idea of how long each topic should take (so you don’t run over by an hour), you don’t know when you might have to go off-script. Leave time for discussion amongst the group without needing to cut off the CEO for telling a story that cuts into your timeline. A trainee is more likely to remember a discussion amongst colleagues than your speech.

By no means is this meant to scare you into thinking you now need to be terrified of preparing so much that you don’t prepare at all. Prepare, practice, take a deep breath and be confident.

Think of your favorite speeches of all time. Mine is still Jim Valvano’s ESPY’s speech. Allow your personality to shine through just like they did – your audience will thank you for it.