About four years ago I was asked to give a talk to a local business group on sustainability. I remember being extremely nervous as I went up to the podium, the nervousness compunding as my talk went on when I saw blank stares coming back to me from my audience. I started to get flustered. I was trying too hard to make myself into this charismatic speaker that would inspire everyone with excitement that my voice got higher, my tone more frantic, and my arms started to do the wild chicken dance as I spewed my speech! Nothing in my notes seemed to make sense anymore, and I finished early, having said little of what I had originally meant to. It was probably one of my worst presentations ever. Now I may be remembering it as far worse than it actually was (I was fortunate to receive a few compliments later on), but it wasn’t MY best, and I knew I was capable of better.
And then the big guns came out. I mean to say the keynote speaker of the day by the name of Peter Legge. He is one of the greatest speakers I’ve ever have the privilege of listening to. As he took to the podium he began to slowly work the stage. His stories about family and a hugely successful career just flowed from his mouth and suddenly all of us felt like we were a part of those memories. “How long is your runway of life?” Peter asked, holding everyone’s emotions in his hands. When Peter wanted silence, it was there. When he wanted us to laugh , we did. When he wanted us to cry, we also did.
After the event was over, I asked Peter for some advice on how I could be a better presenter. I couldn’t help but notice that his speech was written out word for word on numerous pages of which he carried onto the stage and had open at all times. Yet, he never really looked at it. Peter knew his talk so well, that he really didn’t need any notes.
I learned that the key to a great talk is preparedness. If you don’t know your talk ahead of time, and you haven’t prepared the message you want to give, then the audience will miss all your great ideas and insights. By agreeing to be your audience, people are giving you the gift of their time. Peter did them the courtesy of making sure that their time watching his talk was time well spent. Peter also spent the time to help and mentor me.
I’m proud to say that I’ve given excellent speeches since that event years ago, and it’s all based on practice, and some basic principles learned from Peter and others:
– Be prepared. Enough said :)
– Careful when ‘power-pointing.’ Make sure that you give something extra than bullet points on slides. If you could email all the content of your talk for people to read when they aren’t missing the one time showing of Les Miserables, then your presentation needs some love.
– BE your audience: If you want people to be excited about what you’re talking about, then be excited too. Why would your audience be excited when you seem bored?
– Be different: Tell stories that highlight your message, and encourage conversation with your audience.
-Have some passion: Make sure your presentations topics are things you’re knowledgeable on and can speak passionately about. I don’t mean that you have to be a Ph.D, but you should be able to provide some unique insights and some accurate information with passion for the topic.