HBR, June 2013
It is critical to build confidence to the point where your personality can shine through.
- FRAME YOUR STORY- There’s no way you can give a good talk unless you have something worth talking about. Conceptualizing and framing what you want to say is the most vital part of the presentation. All humans are wired to listen to stories…I think about taking the audience on a journey. If you frame the talk as a journey, the biggest decisions are figuring out where to start and where to end. The most engaging speakers do a superb job of very quickly introducing the topic, explaining why they care so deeply about it, and convincing the audience that they should, too. Limit the scope of your talk to that wich can be explained, and brought to life with examples, in the available time. Resist the impulse to sweep broadly, instead, go deeper. Give more detail. Of course, you can overkill this as well. Many of the best talks have a narrative structure that loosely follows a detective story. The speaker starts out by presenting a problem and then describes the search for a solution. There’s an “aha” moment, and the audience’s perspective shifts in a meaningful way. The story/narrative needs to progress.
- PLAN YOUR DELIVERY- There are three main ways to deliver a talk. (1) Read a Script (2) Develop a set of bullet points that map out what you’re going to say (3) Memorize your talk. Avoid #1, #2 is okay, but a well-rehearsed and memorized talk is the ideal. If a successful talk is a journey, make sure you don’t start to annoy your travel companions along the way. Some speakers project too much ego. They sound condescending or full of themselves, and the audience shuts down. The biggest mistake we see in e3arly rehearsals is that people move their bodies too much. There are some people who are able to walk around a stage during a presentation, and that’s fine if it comes naturally. But the vast majority are better off standing still and relying on hand gestures for emphasis. Perhaps the most important physical act onstage is eye contact. Find 5-5 friendly looking people in different parts of the audience and look them in the eye as you speak. Another big hurdle for inexperienced speakers is nervousness…I think the single best advice is simply to breathe deeply before you go onstage. Acknowledging nervousness can also create engagement. Showing your vulnerability, whether through nerves or tone of voice, is one of the most powerful ways to win over an audience, provided it is authentic. Keep your PowerPoint simple; don’t use a slide deck as a substitute for notes (by say, listing the bullet points you’ll discuss–those are best put on note cards); and don’t repeat out loud words that are on the slide. Many of the best TED talk speakers don’t use slides at all, and many talks don’t require them. If you have photos or illustrations that make the topic come alive, then ye, show them. If not, consider doing without. Another approach creative types might consider is to build silence into their talks, and just let the work speak for itself. Video can be very effective, but there are common mistakes that should be avoided. A clip needs to be short–if it’s more than 60 seconds, you risk losing people. Don’t use videos–particularly corporate ones–that sound self-promotional.
- PUTTING IT TOGETHER- Presentations rise or fall on the quality of the idea, the narrative, and the passions of the speaker. It’s about substance, not speaking style or multimedia pyrotechnics. It’s fairly easy to “coach out” the problems in a talk, but there’s no way to “coach in” the basic story–the presenter has to have the raw material. The most memorable talks offer something fresh, something no one has seen before. The worst onesare those that feel formulaic.