There comes a time when every one of us has to stand up in front of an audience and deliver a speech or make a presentation. Some people love being on stage, under the spotlight. Others dread it. I’ve been in both camps. If I have great content, compelling ideas and stories I want to share, it’s an adrenalin rush. But when I’ve got nothing, or work that I don’t genuinely believe in, it can be pretty frightening.
When you work in the advertising business you get plenty of chances to present, at least to small audiences. With time, if you work at it, you can master the basic techniques: eye contact, dramatic pauses, the climactic revealing of an idea.
However showing work to a small group is quite a bit different than holding the microphone in front of 50 or 100 or 200 people. That takes a different set of skills. But with thought, planning and practice, you can do a pretty good job. Here are some tips that I’ve picked up.
Start with your audience
Why are they there? What do they want to hear? What will you give them that they can take away and use? I always try and imagine the five things I would want people to write down, remember and pass on. That way you’re making it about them, not just about you.
People don’t remember lists or bullet points. They remember stories. So tell good ones. Brian Halligan recalls the Grateful Dead allowing bootleg tapes to make the point that giving away free content works. Clay Shirky talks about the demise of the scribes in the 1400s to convince you that abundance breaks more things than scarcity. Find great stories, commit them to memory, milk them for all they’re worth.
If you’ve been invited to speak to an audience, it’s probably because you have something to offer. The audience wants to know about you, what you’ve done, how you did it, the obstacles you overcame. Don’t make it the “me show,” but put your own experiences and observations into the show.
Make it interactive
This is the age of social media and participation. Bring some of that spirit with you to the stage. Tim Brown does lots of fun stuff to get his audience involved. I often get the audience to join in by asking them to help steer a robot from the back of the room to the front in order to demonstrate the power of crowdsourcing. You can always put up a screen that captures a hashtag and allow for real time Tweeting. But try and find a way that gives your listeners a role.
Admit mistakes and failures
People love to hear about things that didn’t work. It shows that you’re human and brings you closer to your audience. I’m often surprised how much more interest there is in all the things I’ve tried and failed at, and how much credit I get for sharing them. Plus if you are willing to admit your fiascos, you just might save people from making the same mistakes.
Don’t be a slave to your slides
Avoid bullet points, graphs, charts and diagrams. (OK, maybe one or two if absolutely necessary.) If you do use slides, stick to images, dramatic pictures, examples of what you’re talking about, or an occasional quote or sound bite. Better yet, determine the points you want to make and make them with those wonderful stories you’ve come up with.
Learn from the masters
The web is full of great examples. Check out Vimeo or TED. Watch them not only for content, but for the technique. Few tell a story as well as Malcolm Gladwell. Benjamin Zander exhibits a passion and demonstrates his points. Tim Brown engages his audience with tactics that engage. Alex Bogusky is just personal and self-deprecating. I’ve learned and stolen from all of them.
So get out there. Book a gig. Make a presentation. Let me know how it goes.
And if you have techniques to share or a favorite talk, leave it in the comments below. Thanks for reading.