The blue light shining from the laptop screen was all that lit the otherwise dark room.
5am and Paul’s coffee was already cold.
He flicked back and forward between his slide deck and a blog article sporting advice for presenters.
His heart beat faster than usual. Paul was under pressure.
Only 6 hours to go and he was on the third re-write of his slide deck. Every article and every YouTube video provided different advice. So, with every new article read, or video watched, Paul doubted his presentation skills more and more.
With only a few hours left he was running out of options.
He needed to just pick a path and stick to it. Get the slides done and then figure out what he was going to say.
Trouble was, with time fast slipping away, and his anxiety building, Paul was struggling to focus.
One minute has downloading stock photos and typing out bullet points, and the next second he was pacing around the living room reciting lines. All this on 3 hours of sleep and the fumes of a now stale cup of coffee.
There had to be a better way.
Paul flopped down at the laptop. Frustrated, he deleted the slide deck he’d been working on and stared blankly at the screen. What was he going to do?
He checked the clock on the wall. One hour until he needed to get ready for work! He started a fresh slide deck and began typing out talking points on the slides. It wasn’t going to be pretty, but it was too late to worry about it now.
Ever felt like Paul?
Not only is it tough that you’ve got to deal with the anxiety around speaking to an audience, you’ve also got to deal with the advisers. There’s so much advice on presentations out there, so many books, and so many gurus, so many courses. It’s hard to know which way to turn.
With so much differing advice, inertia can set in and you resign yourself to winging it. You find yourself banging out a few bullet points just hours before the presentation.
It’s not good for your stress levels and it’s really bad for your career.
In this article I’m going to show you how all those books and videos are rubbish. All those debates over design rules and bullet points versus images are wasting your time and focusing you on the wrong thing.
I’m also going to show you how to squash your fear of speaking, engage your audience, and skyrocket your career.
Squash your fear
Right now, if your boss asked you to do a presentation, how would you feel?
Pretty uncomfortable, right?
You’ve suddenly got the added pressure of preparing a talk and prepping supporting materials.
Plus, there’s all the anxiety surrounding standing in front of an audience. Speaking on a topic in front of all your peers or superiors. And how are you ever going to remember all those lines?
The good news is that all of that anxiety comes from looking at a presentation the wrong way. And if there’s a wrong way there must be a right way, right? Right!
You see, the only real yard stick you have for presentations is what you have observed other people doing at work or school. And quite frankly, they haven’t been good role models.
Once you know the correct way to prepare for and deliver a presentation you squash the fear.
Now don’t get me wrong, the nerves will always be there before a presentation. It’s natural because you are human. But the overwhelming fear of being judged, forgetting something, or messing up, will be gone.
Stay with me.
Engage your audience
Use humor, they say.
Start with a story, they say.
Design some killer slides, they say.
All the advice is well-intentioned but fails to address a fundamental issue. And this fundamental misconception around presentations means all the humor, stories, and slides in the world cannot make you a good presenter or clear up your anxiety.
I’m going to clear up this misconception and the panic and sense of doom will clear away with it.
Skyrocket your career
When you can deliver a presentation in a confident way, amazing things happen in your career.
Suddenly all of your great ideas see the light of day.
Your visibility shoots up. You get noticed.
Your exposure and influence increases.
You get more responsibility. You get more recognition.
The chance for promotion and career progression increases.
The advice is all crap
Let’s face it.
You’ve read the books, watched the videos, scanned the blog posts, and worked your butt off. And…
Your presentation still sucks.
Your Friday afternoon talk was received as warmly as a day-old tea bag.
And there’s a simple explanation why: The advice is generic and flawed. The advice is either focused too strongly on slide design or too general to actually implement.
Here’s what works
Forget everything you’ve been told
Forget all the focus on humor, and stories, and slide design.
Forget all the advice about PowerPoint, and Prezi, and wowing your audience with zooms, morphs, fades, and blends.
Think about the last time your were in an audience. Remember those animations the presenter used?… Think harder… Were you impressed?… Exactly! If you can even remember what happened; how the slides transitioned; you weren’t impressed. You didn’t go for lunch afterwards talking about how awestruck you were.
Forget everything you’ve been told, and start from scratch the next point…
Think in terms of communication
Presentations tend to suck because we don’t think about what they are supposed to be.
Here’s what we consciously or subconsciously think presentations are:
- A message delivered via technology
- A chance to summarize an idea with bullet points
- A talk led by slides
- A chance to exercise our creativity or design skills
- A ceremony to pass some kind of stage gate
These are all completely wrong and part of the reason presentations are such an uphill battle for us.
Here’s how we should look at presentations:
An opportunity to communicate a message to multiple people at once.
Presentations are fundamentally about communication. A focus on anything else makes your job as presenter more difficult and your audience less likely to get anything from your presentation.
Only present about subject matter you know well
Don’t do any preparation unless you know your subject matter well.
If you start preparing your presentation without a deep understanding of your subject you’re setting yourself up to fail.
You’ll find yourself in hot water if there’s a tech problem on the day, or your audience asks deep questions. You also won’t be talking about a subject you know so you’re likely to come across as nervous or unprepared.
If you don’t know the subject matter well you have two options:
- Spend the time to get to know your subject or;
- Pass the presentation to someone else with more knowledge of the subject
Start with the end in mind
Good books have the ending planned before the author starts writing.
Good movies have the ending planned before the cameras start rolling.
And good vacations have a destination selected before we arrive at the airport with a bunch of luggage.
So it makes sense that a good presentation would be prepared with an end goal in mind.
As a first step, decide what action you want the audience to take at the end of your talk. Decide where you are driving them and then the rest of your preparation will fall into place.
Plan in threes
Try and talk about everything and you may as well talk about nothing.
No one in your audience is going to remember everything anyway.
If you want to keep your audience engaged, and give them the best chance of retaining what you’ve said, limit the information you share to three main points (or less). This has the added benefit of being easy to remember when you’re on stage.
When you know what your goal is; When you have three key points to talk about; When you know your subject well; When you are focused on effective communication; You’re more confident, more credible, and more likely to deliver an awesome presentation.
Consider a whiteboard in place of slides
Despite what you’ll hear from the “gurus”, consider dumping the slides.
Slides take a huge amount of your preparation time and often end up acting as a distraction from what you’re saying.
Consider replacing your slides with some real time whiteboard work.
You’re talk will be more engaging. Because you’re working on the whiteboard as you talk your confidence will be higher (just remember to make regular eye contact with your audience as you speak).
What do you think?
Let’s chat in the comments below.