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Planning the Test Phase

Planning for a simple dry run may take little effort. For major presentations, careful planning is key. Here are some suggestions for both reviewers and presenters, also summarized in Figure 10-1.

  • Test early and often. Helpful reactions can be given at several key steps of development. The further along in the presentation phase, the more difficult and expensive changes become. Making changes at the storyboard or rough-visual-aid level is simple and cheap compared to finding out that the presentation is off base and needs major work after all material has been gathered and finished visuals have been prepared.

    Figure 10-1. Testing and evaluation can greatly improve presentations.
    • Plan to test at several steps during the development process.

    • Conduct dry runs far enough in advance that needed changes can be implemented.

    • Prepare carefully for dry runs for productive sessions.

    • Test all parts: presenter, spoken words, graphics, operations, and Q&A.

    • (Reviewers) Make feedback constructive, to help the presentation, not damage the speaker.

    • Use video to help coaching and for self-evaluation.

    • Listen to the reviewers and make changes where feasible and desirable.

    • Do it again.

  • Determine the specific purpose of each part of the test phase. For a major presentation, several test formats may be in order. The intent of each may be different. To review visual aids for sequence and story, wall storyboards can be useful. To test the presentation and presenter, full-blown dry runs are in order. To prepare for questions, reviewers need to fire likely ones at the presenter and evaluate responses.

  • Schedule the dry run early and make it happen. Often the test phase is done as an afterthought or skipped entirely. Planning and scheduling the test program are key to more effective presentation development.

  • Conduct dry runs well enough in advance to leave time for needed revisions. If the dry run is not held until the day before the presentation, it is difficult to incorporate the suggestions of the evaluators.

  • Simulate the setting and the facilities. If possible, practice with the specific equipment and at facilities that will be used for the presentation. If that's not possible, match the conditions as closely as possible. One major presentation involved extensive last-minute rework because the preliminary dry run failed to simulate the exact screen size and audience location. When these were later tested, it was obvious that most of the visuals had to be redone.

  • Simulate the audience. Often people in the presenter's organization have backgrounds like those of key people in the real audience. A marketing manager who is a former Air Force colonel may be a good person to have as an evaluator for a military presentation. Fellow professionals can listen much like the technical experts in the audience.

  • Determine other participants. To get needed graphics changes made quickly, include graphics designers in practice sessions.

  • Prepare the reviewers. Send reviewers important information needed for well-informed review and feedback, and strongly suggest they come prepared. I've been part of many Red Teams where reviewers had not read the presentation requirements.

  • Arrange for dry-run support gear. This may include video or audio recording and playback equipment, copies of visuals, evaluation forms, timing signs, and a stopwatch.



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