Is It Possible to Over Prepare for a Presentation?

When preparing a presentation, TED talk, webinar, investor pitch, wedding toast, or anything in between, there can be a struggle with how much to prepare in advance.

On the one hand, there is the school of thought that “You can’t over-prepare for a presentation.” This group feels that you must “know your presentation cold.” They’ll tell you to stand in front of a mirror and plan every gesture and make sure you memorize every line. This group claims this rigorous preparation will help you look and sound like an expert.

On the other hand, there is the school of thought that “Over-preparation is dangerous” and that it’s best to “wing it.” They’ll tell you that if you over-prepare, you’ll look too planned and mechanical. This group says that you should “make it up as you go” to sound natural to look relaxed.

Well, where do we fall at The Speech Improvement Company on speaker preparation? Team Over-Prepare or Team Under-Prepare?

I’ll share a story to help frame this vital consideration.

I watched a variety show many years ago, enjoying one of the world’s most talented jugglers, Red Ryder. He was performing tricks I had never seen before, juggling five different objects at a time like machetes and bricks, using devil sticks to flip items, and topped it off by doing all this on a unicycle.

He did an impressive trick at one point, and when the audience cheered, he walked over to a shelf and placed a large trophy on top while grinning, creating a big laugh from the crowd.

A minute later, he was performing a difficult trick and dropped a club. He looked shocked and embarrassed, and then with his head hanging low, replaced his giant trophy with a tiny trophy. This staged failure brought a roar of laughter from the crowd.

What are the critical points of this story?

  1. He was an expert in his craft (subject matter expert)
  2. He used his personality to show his human side (speaker style)
  3. He was so skilled that he could make a ‘fake mistake’ to deepen his connection with the audience (willing to be imperfect)
  4. He put in decades of work to hone his 7-minute show (preparation)
  5. He did not aim for perfection; he sought impact and connection (awareness of the ‘why’)


The moral of this story: know your listeners, know your content, know your why, and know yourself.

There are certain presentations where you know the stakes are high. I felt this way during my TEDx talk in 2012. I think differently now about a few topics I addressed in my talk, which means I’ve grown as a human. My TEDx talk was almost ten years ago, but I’m still on the same quest. The truth is, if you are saying something interesting, it will feel a bit scary. You are putting yourself out there. Not everyone will agree with everything you say. No matter how much you prepare, there will be hateful and mean comments online about your work and opinions. You are sharing your voice, your unique perspective. This process of putting yourself out there takes bravery because you don’t have complete control.

The good news is, we aren’t juggling flaming machetes; we are speaking to the Board of Directors, conference attendees, investors, clients, or colleagues. When you know HOW to prepare, the rest falls into place. 

Need help learning how to prepare for an upcoming presentation and finding the Goldilocks balance of not too much and not too little preparation? Send me a note at [email protected], and I’ll be happy to share a few tips and suggestions. Our worldwide network of coaches at The Speech Improvement Company helps people learn how to speak with confidence every day. Let us know how we can be helpful to you.


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