Stage fright is just not conducive to any performance, be it music, theater, or public speaking. Yet so many people suffer from it…often just during the first moments of a presentation.
In the words of Joe Kowan, “When you experience fear, your sympathetic nervous system kicks in. You have a rush of adrenaline, your heart rate increases, your breathing gets faster. Next, your non-essential systems start to shut down, like digestion. Your mouth gets dry, your blood is routed away from your extremities, so your fingers don’t work anymore, your pupils dilate, your muscles contract, your Spidey sense tingles…basically your whole body is trigger happy.”
Watch this entertaining presentation given by Joe at TED@State Street and learn how he overcame stage fright when singing folk music to audiences of all sizes.
Harvard Business Review contained a true gem for presenters in the June 2013 issue: Lessons from Chris Anderson, curator of the TED conference series. Chris starts out with a story to demonstrate that giving a good talk is highly coachable. He recalls meeting Richard Turere, a 12-year old Masai boy, who came up with a solution to one of the biggest challenges livestock farmers in Kenya face: protecting their animals from lions and other wild animals. He devised a system of lights that created a sense of movement that scared off lions at night. The lights worked as imagined by Richard and soon villagers in other part of Kenya started installing Richard’s “lion lights”.
This is the kind of inspiring story that is perfect for a TED Talk. The only problem: Richard seemed not an ideal candidate to give a presentation to a large audience used to listening to polished speakers like Bill Gates and Al Gore. Richard was painfully shy and when he tried to explain his invention, the sentences came out incoherently. Despite of this, Chris invited Richard to tell his story at at the 2013 TED conference. In the months prior to his presentation, the team at TED worked with Richard to frame his story – to find the right place to begin, and to develop the story into a powerful presentation.
Chris Anderson writes in the HBR article, “When he finally gave his talk at TED, in Long Beach, you could tell he was nervous, but that only made him more engaging — people were hanging on his every word. The confidence was there, and every time Richard smiled, the audience melted. When he finished, the response was instantaneous: a sustained standing ovation.”
So how does the TED team coach their presenters to frame, practice, and deliver their stories? The process starts six to nine months before the event. That’s right! A real killer presentations requires lots of planning, devising, rehearsing, and lots of fine tuning along the way. The actual task of transforming a presentation from muddled to mesmerizing is a matter of hours…spread over a longer period of time.
Frame Your Story
We all have good stories to tell. The most vital part of making your story compelling is to conceptualize it and put it in a frame that people want to hear. Think about taking your audience on a journey. As with any journey, how you start it and where you finish it is vital to the entire experience. The most engaging speakers quickly introduce the topic, explain why they care so deeply about it, and convince the audience members that they should as well. Don’t cram everything you know into your presentation. Instead, use a few specific examples to highlight your ideas. Your presentation won’t be rated by how broad it is, but rather by how deep you can involve your listener into a few well explained details about the problem you are solving.
Plan Your Delivery
There are three main ways to give a talk. You can read it off a script or teleprompter. You can develop a set of bullet points that map out what you’re going to cover in each section. Or you can memorize your talk to deliver it word for word as you have practiced it. Of course, the last method is the most time consuming during your preparation. It will require hours of rehearsing. It is, however, also the most effective once you are in front of your audience. It is the one the TED team recommends to their presenters for a good reason: many of their best and most popular talks have been memorized word for word. What if you don’t have the time or the presentation is not as significant as a TED Talk with 1,400 people in the audience and millions behind their computer screens? Go with bullet points on flash cards. As long as you know what you want to say to each point and transition well from section to section, you’ll be fine. Another point Chris makes in the HBR article is to sound naturally. Present your information and story in a conversational tone. Don’t orate, don’t lecture. Be as natural as if you would talk to a group of your friends.
Develop Stage Presence
Just the thought of standing in front of an audience can be extremely frightening. To take off some of this edge, always remember that your words, story, and substance is much more important to the audience than the way you stand or if you are visibly nervous. Richard seems quite nervous in his presentation about the “lion lights”, but people in the audience didn’t care at all about that. In fact, he built better rapport because the audience members could identify with this nervousness. Furthermore, they sensed that he is confident talking about his experience and story. That’s one of the reasons his talk was receiving such a positive feedback.
One of the biggest mistakes the TED team sees in early rehearsals is that people move their bodies too much. They sway from side to side or shift their weight from one leg to the other. They coach their presenters to keep their lower bodies motionless, which can dramatically improve stage presence. Although there are some presenters that are able to walk around the stage during their presentation (the late Steve Jobs was very natural doing it), the majority of presenters is better off standing still and relying on hand gestures and facial expressions.
The one aspect that will do most for your successful presentation is eye contact. Pick a few audience members and imagine them as friends you haven’t seen in a while. Make solid eye contact with them while you update them on your work.
Plan the Multimedia
You probably have heard the advice about PowerPoint (or similar presentation software): Keep it Simple! Don’t use your presentation deck as a crutch, as a substitute for notes. And never, ever read from your slides. It will only make the audience think that they could do that themselves in the comfort of their home or office. Instead, use powerful images that visualize the key points of your presentation. In Richard’s presentation about his “lion lights” there are not text slides. They are not needed. There are, however, many photographs that engage the reader to take a short journey into Richard’s world.
If you’re going to use slides, it’s worth exploring alternatives. Prezi, for example, makes presentation software that offers a camera’s-eye view of a two-dimensional landscape. It allows the creator of the presentation to zoom in and out and rotate elements for maximum impact. But use those features sparingly. You wouldn’t want your audience to become dizzy while listening to your talk.
Putting it Together
The TED team starts helping their presenters at least six months in advance so that they’ll have plenty of time to practice. They want people’s talks in final form one month prior to the event. Why? The more practice the presenters can put in during the final weeks, the more compelling the presentation will be. The most important thing to keep in mind though is that presentations rise and fall on the quality of ideas, the narrative, and the passion of the speaker. It’s about substance, not speaking style or multimedia pyrotechnics. If you have something to say, you can build a great talk. And always remember, there is no one good way to give a presentation. The most memorable talks offer something fresh, something that is engaging, and relevant to the audience.
To read the full article, head over to the June 2013 issue of the Harvard Business Review.
The internet is full of great advice how to use presentation software like PowerPoint or Keynote. There are many great books available to help presenters create more effective and powerful slides. Yet looking at a typical presentation, it seems not many presenters are paying attention.
Perhaps it helps if the message is delivered with a bit of humor. Watch Don McMillan tell the world how to NOT use PowerPoint. As funny and as relevant as ever.
Many years ago, when I still lived in Switzerland, I attended a technology convention with a great line up of international speakers. My English was still very limited at that time. Yet the presenter I remember the most was an American presenting in English. He started his talk with a joke:
How do you call a person who speaks two languages?
How do you call a person who speaks several languages?
How do you call a person who speaks only one language?
After the laughter subsided, he continued with an apology that he was a “typical American” and thus only spoke English. He then launched into his subject and I understood him better than any of the other English speaking presenters. He was clearly a person who was sensitive to his non-English speaking audience and did his best to convey his message in a way that was easily understood.
When you present to an audience abroad, an audience whose mother tongue isn’t English, you need to change your style a bit to really get your message across. Although most people in business have at least a basic understanding of English these days, you need to consider a few points you don’t have to think about when you present to a native-English speaking crowd.
1. Slow down your speech
Even if your natural rate of speech isn’t all that fast, remind yourself to slow down a bit. If your audience’s level of English is rather basic, they will translate everything you say internally. Speak short sentences without too many long, difficult, or unusual words. Use pauses between sentences to give your listeners a chance to translate your words.
2. Speak clearly
Be extremely articulate. The more clearly you speak, the higher chance you’ll have to get your message across. Practice parts of your speech with a cork in your mouth. Put the cork between your front teeth and say a passage a few times before removing the cork. Try your best to say the words as clearly as possible while having the cork in your mouth. Then say the same passage again without the cork. Notice the difference? It’s an old trick stage actors use and it works because you become aware of the muscles in your tongue…and really use them.
3. Use body language and gestures
This is a tip that’s not only relevant when you speak to a foreign audience. Dynamic and enthusiastic speakers use body and hand movements to illustrate key points with any audience. I have some Italian blood running through my veins and I guess that becomes obvious when you see me speak. I speak with my hands and body. I’m not really aware of it unless somebody points out that I’m quite animated when I talk. It has come in rather handy when I speak to people with limited English. They seem to understand my language rather well, I believe in part because my body language and gestures.
4. Avoid slang and idioms
Words evoke internal imagery. Non-native speakers of English may take your idioms literally. Until I reached a certain level of proficiency in English, I scratched my head trying to figure out idioms like “get your ducks in a row” (I didn’t own any ducks), “raining cats and dogs” (huh? how is that possible? what did those animals do in the sky in the first place?), or ”knock ‘em dead” (come again? isn’t that illegal?). Idioms are culture oriented and what may sound perfectly good to you might be a most confusing statement to somebody from another culture using a different language.
5. Use local terminology, stories and metaphors
When you talk about measurements, understand the local terminology. Not everybody measures things in inches, yards, or gallons. Most of the world uses the metric system. Presenters also often use sport metaphors to make a point. Be aware that baseball and football stories don’t have the same impact outside of the United States. When the rest of the world hears football, they typically think of what you may call soccer, and baseball metaphors are typically quite lost on an audience outside of the USA.
6. Learn some local key vocabulary
By the time you take the stage, you most likely will already know the local words for hello and thank you. Use them! If you feel extra adventurous, practice the phrase “It’s nice to be here.” Starting your speech by using the local greeting makes a lasting impression even if your pronunciation may not be perfect. You show your audience that you respect them enough to learn some phrases in their language.
7. Use image dominant slides
This tip is not just for presenting to an audience abroad. I’m glad to see more and more people using picture superior slides after reading Carmin Gallo’s bestselling book The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. Don’t put too much text on your slides. Use images to make your point, but be careful to only use images that are universally understood and not part of an idiom that may get lost on your audience.
I hope these 7 tips will help you make your next presentation abroad as memorable as the one I’ve seen back in Switzerland so many years ago. What tips do you have to make presentations to a foreign audience more effective?
Could it be that some of the most memorable speeches have a common structure? They most definitely do according to Nancy Duarte. She uncovers a secret structure that move the audience repetitively from “what is” to “what could be” states of awareness.
Duarte compares Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech to Steve Jobs’s iPhone launch. Her research paid attention to when the speakers were talking about the status quo versus an improved future. The way she uses graphs to display how the speakers involve their audience (by evoking laughter and applause) is superb.
The reason I find this presentation so worthwhile to watch is not its content, the graphics, or the knowledge that great presentations share a common structure. My reason for liking it is the way Duarte delivers her message. Pay attention to her voice inflection, the rate of speech, and the pauses she makes. I believe if you can deliver a presentation with the same skill and enthusiasm, your presentation will have a great chance to be remembered. If, in addition, you deliver it with a similar structure as outlined by Duarte and sprinkle some interesting stories in-between, you’ve got it made.
Leave it to the ultra democratic Swiss to come up with a political party that wants to minimize (or even eradicate) the use of PowerPoint* in today’s business, government, and educational environments.
The Anti PowerPoint Party is open for people from all over the world. Its defined goal is a referendum in order to seek for a prohibition of PowerPoint* during presentations. The real aim of the referendum, however, is to lift the PowerPoint* issue, both to the awareness of the Swiss people and to the awareness of the world population. They don’t really want to prohibit anything to anybody – through this virtual claim they only want people to have a look at the existing solutions and consider alternative approaches for their presentations.
In the words of Matthias Poehm, the party’s founder: “In over 14 years of public-speaking training, I have noticed that the use of a flip chart beats PowerPoint in 95 out of 100 cases. This is not wishful thinking on my part but proven experience.”
As someone who has sat through too many boring presentations — and helps presenters to make theirs more interesting — I can only applaud this move. Naturally, I’ve joined the APPP. Head over to the official website to join as well.
*PowerPoint is mentioned as the representative of all presentation software
There are hundreds of books available for people wanting to improve their presentation skills. It’s difficult to choose. Here are five books, published within the last three years, that I consider “must reads” for every presenter:
This is Nancy Duarte’s first book, although it has been published two years after her “slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations“, which taught presenters how to give more visually appealing presentations.
In “Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences,” Duarte shows just how important stories are for compelling presentations. She has studied great presenters and their presentations and suddenly it clicked: Those presentations all followed some form of pattern. A pattern that is not just found in great presentations, but also literary work and blockbuster movies. Drawing from this research, Duarte outlines these patterns and gives useful tips on how to add that special something to your presentations.
One of the most profound tips in the book is what Nancy calls the intentional placement of a S.T.A.R. Moment: Something They’ll Always Remember. This moment should be so profound or so dramatic that it becomes what the audience chats about at the water cooler or appears as the headline of a news article. Planting a S.T.A.R. moment in a presentation keeps the conversation going even after it’s over and helps the message go viral.
Presentation designer and internationally acclaimed communications expert Garr Reynolds, creator of the most popular Web site on presentation design and delivery on the net — presentationzen.com — shares his experience in a provocative mix of illumination, inspiration, education, and guidance that will change the way you think about making presentations with PowerPoint or Keynote.
Presentation Zen challenges the conventional wisdom of making “slide presentations” in today’s world and encourages you to think differently and more creatively about the preparation, design, and delivery of your presentations. Garr shares lessons and perspectives that draw upon practical advice from the fields of communication and business. Combining solid principles of design with the tenets of Zen simplicity, this book will help you along the path to simpler, more effective presentations.
The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs is as close as you’ll ever get to having the master presenter himself speak directly in your ear. Communications expert Carmine Gallo has studied and analyzed the very best of Jobs’s performances, offering point-by-point examples, tried-and-true techniques, and proven presentation secrets that work every time. With this revolutionary approach, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to sell your ideas, share your enthusiasm, and wow your audience the Steve Jobs way.
The author, Carmine Gallo, writes a bi-weekly column for Businessweek.com and has been a featured contributor to several other major websites including MSNBC, Military.com, Always On, AOL and Yahoo Finance. Gallo personally coaches leading executives for keynote speeches, media interviews, product launches, and book tours.
To read my detailed book review, click here.
Presentation Skills 201 is for the good presenter who is determined to get even better. Containing over 70 pieces of detailed advice for higher performance, Presentation Skills 201 can be read from cover-to-cover or used as a reference guide. It includes valuable, easy-to-implement tips for every facet of the presentation process from planning to delivery. It’s all here at an advanced level for high-performing professionals who desire that extra edge by increasing confidence and engaging audiences.
Readers will learn how to increase both the impact and memorability of their presentations. Included with the tips are scores of real-life examples and stories from the author’s over 16 years of helping highly-accomplished presenters find that one more thing that they can do to take it up notch and build their careers by making strong, positive impressions on their presentation audiences.
Scott Berkun is a former Microsoft executive who turned writer and professional speaker. Confessions is Berkun’s first-hand account of many years of public speaking, teaching, and television appearances.
In the book, he shares his successes, failures, and some frustrating experiences, to help readers with their delivery of their own presentations. Confessions contains practical advice in every chapter of the book. It teaches what to do when things go wrong: whether it is a tough crowd you are facing or technical difficulties you encounter.