Presentation is a High Performance Sport – There Are NO Miracles
In springtime, magazines around the world are full of weight-loss tips. No matter where you look, everywhere you’ll find “do this and you lose 10 kg (20 pounds) in a week” or “avoid this to get in shape in 5 days”. All of these tips have one thing in common – they promise miracles just by changing one thing in your life. Do you believe in miracles? No? Good, because miracles don’t happen! But I am sure, you knew that already, right?
Miracles don’t happen
Surprisingly enough, people still hope, that there’s that one “hidden secret” out there, that changes everything for good. What’s true for weight-loss & diets is also true for many other topics of our lives. Presentation & public speaking skills not being an exception.
It’s just like people are crazy for secret tips although everybody knows that miracles don’t happen. Why? Because everybody knows the truth. The only secret to success is hard work! But as many people don’t want to put in hard work, they are chasing the dream of a shortcut to success. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to success.
So, if you are searching for the hidden secret, you can stop reading now.
Still here? Great! So let’s move on.
Does the absence of the hidden secret mean, that you should forget all the tips & tricks that you can find in books & articles all over the world? Not at all. But you have to be true to yourself.
Reading books and discussing tips won’t change anything. You must be a doer, if you want anything to change for good. Far too many people think they know everything about presentation. But knowing everything doesn’t help you, if you are not willing to walk the talk. Those are the people that never stop searching for that “hidden secret” and you can find their bad comments all over the internet. Even on the sales pages of the best presentation & public speaking books on earth. I am sure you have seen comments like “nothing new”, “I’ve heard that a thousand times before” etc.
But as I said before, knowledge is one thing, acting upon it, is something completely different. So stop talking and get going.
You are a speaker. You just need to speak
When I ask people in my presentation workshops how they feel about speaking in public, about 75-80 % say things like:
- “I don’t like presenting.”
- “I am not good at it.”
- “I don’t like to be in the spotlight.”
- “I am freaking out, when I just think about it.”
And so on… I follow-up with this question: “Do you think you could be more successful in your job, if you enhanced your public speaking skills?” What do you think the answers are? Right! It’s a hundred percent YES! Some of them even tell me, that they are jealous of that one guy who always stands up in meetings. But they are not able to do the same, as they think, they can not bring their message across.
To sum it up: they know that public speaking skills are important, they want to stand up and bring their message across, but what’s holding them back? They don’t think, they have what it takes to become a (good) speaker. But that’s bullshit.
Don’t think you have what it takes to become a great speaker, either? I am sure you have. Believe me. Nobody was born as a brilliant speaker. You can learn everything that’s needed to become a great speaker.
In reference to Jeff Goins (“You are a writer. You just need to write”), I tell you: “You are a speaker. You just need to speak!” All you need is commitment and the will to improve your skills. Will it be easy? No. Worth it? Absolutely.
Presentation/Public speaking is a complex high performance sport
As already stated above, public speaking is a very complex topic – I would even claim that it’s a high-performance sport. No matter which sport you take as a reference, all professional athletes have to train many different skills to be able to react in the right way in any given moment.
For example, if you take a golf pro. He will not only train his golf swing with all the different clubs in his bag, but he has to be mentally strong and in good and healthy shape, to be able to stay concentrated throughout the whole round. So, he needs a lot of mental training and physical workout to be well prepared. The same is true for tennis pros, football player, skiers and many other sports. When you see professional athletes in action, everything seems to work automatically. The movements are smooth & natural.
When you watch a good presenter on stage, it’s just the same. But what seems to come so easy and natural, is just the result of good preparation, planning and a lot of practice. Just like a pro athlete, a good public speaker must combine many things to deliver a memorable performance.
What are the parts of a convincing presentation?
So let’s take a look at all the parts of a convincing presentation:
- Define your core message – make it stick
- Plan & structure your content
- Create your story – storytelling and explanation skills
- Create visually engaging presentations (Powerpoint or Keynote slides, Prezi, etc.)
- Stage performance (self confidence, eye contact, movement on stage, body language, gesture,…)
Overwhelmed? Stay cool. Starting to become a good speaker is like learning to drive a car. When you are driving a car for the first time, you have to think of 100 things at the same time. You think, you will never be able to manage all those tasks simultaneously. But the more you practice, the easier it gets. And after a while, you don’t even think about most of the tasks you have to fulfill. Everything comes natural and you do it automatically. Just like a real pro!
How to become a great speaker/presenter
Quite simple – by starting as a bad speaker and learning by doing! Grow as you go. Every time you start something new, you are a beginner. You have to take the first step to start and then learn and practice to get better. Don’t beat yourself up. All great speakers were once beginners.
Practice makes perfect
“Practice makes perfect” is the key phrase to any of the parts above. The good thing is, that you have lots and lots of situations to practise, even outside of typical presentations situations.
You don’t have to step up on a big stage to practise public speaking. Stand up in meetings and discussions, ask questions in public forums, volunteer for reporting or presenting projects in your team… I am sure you will find situations in your workplace to speak up. And in your private life as well.
Why should you do that? Because most of these situations are low-pressure situations, where you don’t have a lot to lose. Training in such low-pressure situations makes speaking in public become more and more natural to you. With every time you do it successfully, your self-confidence will grow, making it easier to stay cool in high-pressure situations. At least, this is what I have learned from my own experience.
How I overcame the fear of speaking in public
When I was in university, we had to do a lot of presentations. Anytime we started a new group project, the first question was “who will do the presentation?” As soon as the question was out, there was silence. Everybody hated presentations and so nobody wanted to do it. In the first few semesters, I didn’t want to do it either. But that suddenly changed when I entered a class, that was held on only 2 two days over the weekend.
The whole class was about doing group tasks and then presenting the outcome in around 30 seconds. As ever, nobody wanted to stand up and talk to the rest of the class. So I stood up and held the first 30 seconds speech. Just telling, what we did the last 15-20 minutes. Easy task, nothing special. But what made it special for me, was the fact, that after doing this 5-6 times on that day, I got used to it. I even started to like it.
Why? Because I recognized, that this task everybody was afraid of, was not such a big deal. In fact, it was a very easy way to stand out of the crowd and make a good impression in the eyes of the professor.
From that day on, I changed my behavior completely. Instead of waiting for that awkward question, I told the group upfront, that I will do the presentation. That gave me the chance to practice and enhance my presentation skills in a lot of different situations, ranging from groups of 5 people to groups of up to 50 people. And by the way, it saved me a lot of work, as my group members did all the preparation work the only thing I had to do was presenting.
That’s how I lost my fear of speaking in public. For all the other parts, I tried to learn from the best, read a lot of books, attended workshops, tried many tips & tricks and failed often until I found my way.
And this is what you should do as well. Find your own way, your setup, the combination of tips & tricks, that works best for you and always be yourself. At end of the day, it should be an original YOU stepping on stage, not a cheap copy of Steve Jobs or any other role model. People always prefer originals over copies.
The 5 stages of a good presentation & what you can learn from the best
Here are some tips, tricks and book recommendations, that helped me on my way from a “presentation hater” to a “presentation trainer”. Starting with the number one rule, that most people ignore, being
“It’s not about you, it’s about your audience!”
Have you ever thought about, why you attend presentations and conferences? I am quite sure, it’s because you wanna see new insights and take something with you, that you can use for yourself. It’s hardly surprising, that attendees of your presentation will have the same in mind. “What’s in it for me?” is the short question, that always pops up in our heads, when we listen to speakers. If you can answer this question for your audience right away and make them care about what you are talking, you will earn their attention. And this is what you will need to succeed!
1. Define your core message
Before you can bring your message across, you have to define, what it is, that you want people to remember. This may sound strange, but far too many people don’t know the core message of their own content. If you don’t know it, how should anybody understand your message?
Define the core message as the one take-away-message for your audience to remember. If you can only tell them one thing, what would it be? Be very concrete and try to make this as simple as possible. And always keep in mind“it’s not about you, it’s about your audience”.
I’ve written another article about core message and the common phrase “less is more”.
If you want to learn more about how to make your message stick, read “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Dan & Chip Heath.
If you want to know more about why people really buy products and services, “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” by Simon Sinek is a perfect read.
2. Plan & structure your content
The core message is the basis, now build your presentation/speech around it. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience and think about, which challenges they might face or which issues they currently have. Start with those challenges and plan your content in a logical order from challenge to solution, with your product/service being the key to success.
Don’t just copy & paste text onto slides, but always start your planning from scratch. Put your core message in the center and brainstorm about the best way to deliver the information to your audience. People might ask “Why should I care”? Find the best answer possible and make them care about the topic.
Start strong to get the attention of your audience and don’t waste this precious moment by introducing yourself. You can find 22 ideas on how to start strong here . End even stronger, with a clear call to action.
In the Recommended Reading below you will find everything you need to known about raising and keeping attention, making your presentation memorable and you can learn how to influence people to take action, easily.
“Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Dan & Chip Heath
“Brain rules” by John Medina – Chapter “Attention” (We don’t pay attention to boring things)
“Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert B. Cialdini, PhD
3. Tell a story Storytelling skills
Storytelling is one of the major buzzwords in today’s marketing. But, although there are millions of articles around that topic, the basics of storytelling are pretty simple. For thousands of years, humans delivered everything they knew about life to posterity through stories. What used to work for a long time still works in the 21st century.
Why? Because it’s easier for us to remember things, that are delivered within a story, than plain information chunks listed as bullet points. I am sure you still remember all the fairy tales of your childhood, but none of them was every presented to you in a PowerPoint presentation, right?
The easiest way to tell a story about your topic is to take the plan & structure you created above, and let real people (e.g. Paul the client, etc.) experience all the stages of the process. Doing so will put your audience in the shoes of those characters. And by walking through the process in their shoes, your audience gets a deep dive into the story, making it memorable for them.
This is the technique that’s widely used in so called “explainer videos”. They always start like “Meet Anna. Anna is in trouble… and so on.” Very simple, but extremely effective.
If you want to learn more about explanation and storytelling, “The Art of Explanation: Making your Ideas, Products, and Services Easier to Understand” by Lee LeFever is a must read!
4. Create visually engaging presentations (Powerpoint slides, Prezi)
Want to help people to understand your message and story even better? Visualize it. But beware, don’t let the presentation deck steal your show. Use visuals wisely. They should always play a supporting role, but never take the lead.
By the way, using a massive amount of bullet points is not visualization, this is presenting a “handout”. As the old saying goes “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Act upon it – use more images and less text.
If you don’t like to design presentations or don’t have the time to, you can outsource it to presentation agencies like “The Message Business” or “mcprezi” or use ready-to-use templates from platforms like the “Presenter World”.
The best way to learn how to create visually engaging presentations is to attend a presentation design workshop in your area or get yourself one of the books listed below. The first one will tell you why you should use visualization, while the others are telling you how to use it.
“Brain rules” by John Medina – Chapter “Vision” (Vision trumps all other senses)
“Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations” by Nancy Duarte
“Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences” by Nancy Duarte
“Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery” by Garr Reynolds
5. Shine on stage
While the stages 1-4 were all about preparation, this is the final stage, where all your preparation, your message & your story meet the public eye. The fear of public speaking and stage-fright are the main reasons, why many people say, that they don’t like (hate) presentations. The root of this anxiety mainly comes from the fear, that people in the audience could ask questions, that the presenter can not answer right at the moment. But this is not problem at all. And, if you step on stage and tell the people, that within the next 20 minutes you will need a volunteer, you can be sure, that the fear in the audience is even worse, than your fear could ever be. So stay cool and do your best.
I already told you, how I overcame the fear of public speaking and how I made my way from a “presentation hater” to a “presentation trainer”. Now, it’s your turn. You are a speaker. You just need to speak! So stand up and use every chance to talk in front of an audience. Join Meetups about public speaking in your area, attend Pecha Kucha nights, get a membership at Toastmasters.
Do whatever you like best, but stand up and speak. The more you practice, the easier it will get. The more you talk in public, the bigger your self confidence will grow. And all of sudden, public speaking will feel as natural a driving a car.
All those tips about body language, making eye contact, gesture, be authentic, be enthusiastic etc. are useless, if you don’t step up on stage and just do it. You can read all you need to know about public speaking in the books mentioned below. But, if you want to become better in public speaking, you have to speak.
“Talk Like TED: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds” by Carmine Gallo
“TED Talks: The official TED guide to public speaking” by Chris Anderson
“Magic of Speech Evaluation: Gain World Class Public Speaking Experience by Evaluating Successful Speakers” by Andrii Sedniev
Also, you can always watch any of the great talks on TED.com
Now go and make something awesome!