July 8, 2013
5 Crucial Steps For Successful Presentations

Lions were attacking a 12-year-old boy’s livestock at night. The boy’s name was Richard Turere, and he had a fascinating story about how he stopped the attacks in his Kenyan village—one worthy of a TED Talk.

What Richard didn’t have was public speaking skills. He was painfully shy, and his sentences were anything but polished. But after working with team at TED, Richard was able to present his story the way it deserved to be presented.

In a recent article published by Harvard Business Review, Chris Anderson shares five crucial lessons in giving presentations that he has learned over the years as the curator of TED Talks:

1. Frame Your Story

Of all your preparations, framing your story is by far the most vital. Think of your presentation as a journey with your audience. Where do you want to start, and where do you want to end?

To begin, think about what your audience already knows about your subject and how much they actually care about it. They will quickly be lost or lose interest if you get too technical or start using jargon with which they are unfamiliar. Find a way to quickly introduce your topic in a simple way, and explain why they should care so deeply about it.

According to Anderson, the biggest problem people have in framing their stories is trying to cover too much. Instead of a broad sweep, speakers should dive deep. Instead of reciting your entire field of experience, bring your story to life with details about your unique contribution.

Having said that, remember not to overexplain the implications of your talk. Don’t treat your audience like they’re unintelligent. Let them draw their own conclusions.

To help your audience feel like they are learning, many great speakers craft their narratives by presenting a problem and taking the listeners along on the search for a solution. At the end, the perspective of your audience should shift in a meaningful way.

If you are talking about your business, remember people don’t care about organizations—they care about ideas and stories. Don’t brag about your company—just tell everyone what problem you are solving.

If there’s no progression in your talk, you will leave your listeners bored and unsatisfied.

2. Plan Your Delivery

There are three main ways to deliver a talk: Reading it, memorizing and reciting it, or talking from a general map of bullet points.

Generally speaking, you should never read your talk, even with a teleprompter. It will feel too stiff and formal, and whatever intimate connection you might have with the audience will quickly evaporate.

Memorizing your presentation is actually the best way to go if you have time. If your talk is really important, then the investment is worth it. But this is not for the faint of heart—it takes commitment and a lot of rehearsing. Get it down to the point that your words are effortless and second nature.

If you don’t have the time to memorize, then bullet points are the way to go. Once you know what you want to say for each bullet, your focus should be on the transitions between them.

Whatever your method, try to keep it conversational and steer clear of any language that sounds even remotely condescending.

3. Develop Stage Presence

This is the one many speakers worry about the most, but it’s actually the least important.  Success is determined more by story and substance than it is the way you stand.

The most common stage presence problem is people moving their bodies too much. The swaying and the weight shifting can be very distracting. You can prefer to walk around the stage if you need to, but most people are better off standing still and directing that energy to hand movements instead.

One other important thing to mention is eye contact. Find a handful of friendly looking faces in the audience and speak to them like old friends.

If you’re nervous before going onstage, breathe deeply. It works. And it’s okay to acknowledge your nervousness—people love vulnerability and will cheer you on throughout the talk if your nerves are authentic.

4. Plan The Multimedia

If you use slides, keep them simple. Don’t use them as a substitute for your notes, either (i.e. a list of bullet points).  And whatever you do, don’t just read aloud words on the slides, or you’ll suffer that teleprompter disconnection.

Be careful with videos. If your clips are longer than 60 seconds, you risk losing your listeners. And don’t use any video, corporate or otherwise, that sounds self-promotional. People are conditioned to tune those types of videos out.

If you have photographs, illustrations or video clips that help your topic come alive, then by all means use them. But remember multimedia is rarely a requirement.

5. Put It Together

Ideally, you should practice your talk in front of an audience well in advance of your actual presentation.  And since the feedback you get is critical (and often conflicts with other advice), it’s important to be very selective about whom you choose to be a part of your test audience.

Above all, remember it’s all about substance. If you have passion and a good narrative, your presentation will be successful. Take Anderson’s concluding counsel to heart:

“The single most important thing to remember is that there is no one good way to do a talk. The most memorable talks offer something fresh, something no one has seen before. The worst ones are those that feel formulaic. So do not on any account try to emulate every piece of advice I’ve offered here. Take the bulk of it on board, sure. But make the talk your own. You know what’s distinctive about you and your idea. Play to your strengths and give a talk that is truly authentic to you.”

By the way: When Richard Turere finished his TED Talk, the audience gave the boy from Kenya a standing ovation.