Why You Should Finish Your Presentation Earlier

May 12, 2014

My goal today is to finish the rough draft of the two presentations I’ll be giving at php[tek] in Chicago next week:

In trying to finish up these presentations today–a full 10 and 11 days before I give each presentation (respectively), I’m reminded of the myriad benefits of finishing the presentations you’re giving way, way, WAY earlier than you’re probably used to.

I’ve been to conferences where there’s a dedicated speaker room, and there’s undoubtedly many presenters in there, actively working on completing their presentation, even up until the time the presentation is given. At other conferences, I’ve seen presenters in the hallways, or in the backs of other presentation rooms, working away.

Frankly, if you’re still working on your presentation while at the conference, you’re doing it wrong.

Here’s why you should have your presentations finished way, way, WAY earlier than you’re probably already doing it…

It’ll Be a Better Presentation

The more time spent on something the better it should be, right? Right. (Or, hopefully.) Getting a presentation done well in advance means you’ve given the whole thing a lot of thought. You’ve really analyzed what you’re going to say and why you’re going to say it. You’ve thought about, and repeatedly corrected, the order of material. You’ve caught any typos (that you’re going to catch, anyway).

If you’re still working on the presentation on the day of the presentation, any changes you make will not be well vetted. I know this from experience, more so in books than in presentations…

When you write a technical book, each draft of a chapter goes from you, to a line editor, to a technical editor, and to a managing editor, before coming back to you for revisions. Including your own review of that draft, that means there are four sets of eyes (at least) that review every word and idea of the first draft. But when you make changes during the review process, those changes will be seen by just the managing editor before being composited (i.e., converted into a PDF). To recap:

  • The original draft will have at least four reviews.
  • Rewrites will have one.

I can guarantee a large number of mistakes that make it into the final version of one of my books was made during the rewrites, including any serious ones. Any code changes I make during the rewrites won’t be inspected by a technical editor, and won’t be meaningful to the other editors. I’ve since learned to submit better first drafts, and to only make critical changes during the rewrites.

No matter who you are, any last minute work you do will never be as good as work done earlier. So do your work earlier.

It’ll Be a Better Presentation

Yes, the first two reasons for getting that presentation done ahead of time is that it’ll be a better presentation! (I mean it.) The first argument is that the quality of the slides and content will be better. In this argument, I mean that your ability to give the presentation–what actually happens in the room–will be vastly superior.

Scott Berkun brilliantly points out in his must-read book, Confessions of a Public Speaker, that most people are uncomfortable with public speaking. And what do you do when you’re uncomfortable with something? You put it off. You try not to think about it. So most people put off thinking about a presentation, working on it, let alone practicing it, because those are all reminders that you’ll be publicly speaking soon. Which you don’t want to do. The end result is that you’re less prepared to give the presentation. And when you’re less prepared, you’ll be more nervous. When you’re more nervous, the presentation will go more poorly, you’ll be really uncomfortable, and it will suck for the audience. And…this circle repeats.

If, however, you work on your presentation and you practice your presentation, the experience itself will be much, much better, for both you and the audience. I used to be in Camp A, and Berkun’s comment really hit home with me. Now I practice every presentation I’m going to give at least 3 times, if not 5, out loud. I use the same remote and laptop I’ll be using for the presentation. I treat my external monitor as if it’s the projector. Sometimes I even wear the same clothes I’ll wear on the day of the presentation. The only thing missing will be the audience, which is why I’ll still be nervous come presentation day.

I practice 3-5 times, or more, whether I’m giving 3 presentations at a conference (a la Northeast PHP 2013), or giving a 90-minute presentation (Boston PHP, 2012). This does mean that I put hours and hours into giving a presentation, but if you’re not willing to do that, then you’re not that interested in doing the best job you possibly can.

Also, being a writer, I tend to script my entire presentation–every word I’ll say–and then work on memorizing an ad lib-able version of that. That’s just my routine, for non-technical-demo presentations, at least.

You’ll Enjoy the Conference More

The final reason to get that presentation done in advance is that you’ll enjoy the conference more. Instead of being holed up in a speaker’s room, or not paying attention to the current speaker (how rude!), you can enjoy it. You can actually watch the presentations you want to watch. Sweet, right? You can have good conversations with new people and old friends. And you’ll waste absolutely no energy thinking “OMG, I have to finish my presentation!”

This also means that on the flight to the conference, you can relax and read a book. On the evening before your presentation, you can participate fully in the conference events, hang out in the bar, and stay up too late enjoying yourself. (But not too, too late: you have a presentation to give the next day, after all.)

If you’re not convinced by the arguments that the presentation will be better by getting it down well in advance, then take the selfish reason: you’ll enjoy the conference more.


I was always deathly afraid with public speaking, and I’m still rather nervous about it in general. But I’m no longer nervous about the presentation I’m going to give, because it’s done, and has been well rehearsed far ahead of time. And now, heading to the airport for a conference, I can shift my mind to “I’m going to go enjoy this”, instead of “I still need to do X, Y, and Z”. I can now attend, and pay attention to, the other presentations I want to see. And I can enjoy any conversation I get into, without fear of it eating into my last minute work on the presentation because I wasn’t aptly prepared.

For your sake as a presenter, and for my sake as a potential audience member, you should get in the habit of completing that presentation much farther in advance than you have been. Trust me: we’ll all be the better for it.