Many of us have had that moment: that oh-no-I-don’t-remember-what-I’m-doing-here moment on a stage when all you can think about are the mass of expectant eyeballs waiting in anticipation for what words of wisdom may come out of your mouth. You were prepared! You practiced! And yet, nothing happens. You’re frozen. And the crowd of now seemingly mocking eyes sear harder into your quickly failing confidence.

It’s happened to the best of us. And sadly, it happened to Michael Bay a couple weeks ago while on stage for one of the most watched live and recorded moments in the technology industry and beyond – Samsung’s opening presentation at CES.  Bay fumbled his script and within the first 30 seconds of the presentation had to walk off stage, unable to recapture his talk and his confidence.

Watching this painfully awkward video, I can’t help but empathize for him and think about the many others I’ve seen in similar situations whether it’s for big crowds, intimate gatherings or even a simple one-to-few pitch. It may not always be in such big, dramatic fashion (or on such a public platform) but presentation fiascos happen. A lot. And they happen to even the most brilliant and seemingly prepared.

Watching the recent Golden Globe Awards, I noticed that the number of award-winning actors and actresses who delivered a good acceptance speech were few (if any). Granted, I’ve never felt the adrenaline and wonder of winning such an award, having to speak to an audience comprised, most likely, of a mix of feelings like resentment, boredom, and elation. But even the scripted presenters fell short for me.  You had a script! And time to prepare! And you’re an actor!  Yet, from the dozens that took the stage, I can’t remember one of them.

I attribute a professor I had in grad school, Peter Coughter, for giving me the tools, practice, tips & techniques that have helped make me a better presenter. Coughter taught us many things about presenting but most importantly, he worked to take away what holds back many people from delivering a good presentation, and much less, delivering one at all: fear. Coughter always taught us that to combat fear you have to rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse but not memorize. Rehearsing (I mean really rehearsing, not just privately reading over what you’re going to say) helps you own that content, confidently.

Continuing on January’s typical month-of-lists, here is my list of 5 good presenters I think we can all learn from and the ‘Takeaway’ that I’ve gleaned from each.         

1.    TAKEAWAY:  Be passionate about what you’re presenting.      
There are many things that made Steve Jobs a good presenter. But the key was that he genuinely loved the products he was presenting. He believed what he was presenting was ‘breakthrough’, ‘like magic’, and ‘gorgeous’. And thus, we do too. So, it’s no surprise that he’s on this list but we can’t deny that his soft-spoken, simple style on stage, donning signature black turtleneck and jeans, mesmerized audiences. 

2.     TAKEAWAY:  Focus on one big idea.
Tasked to deliver a speech, many people feel the need to divulge as much information as possible in the hopes it will make them appear smarter and more knowledgeable. The most compelling presentations focus on one core idea and hammer that idea home. Susan Cain gave a powerful TED talk (home of many great presentations) on the Power of Introverts. One big idea. Powerful message. 

3.     TAKEAWAY: Tell personal and visual stories.
Scott Harrison, CEO of Charity: Water, is a compelling speaker who proves that the most powerful presentations pull at our heartstrings, not our logic (although a bit of his powerful supporting facts go a long way). Focus on images and simple graphics, NOT bullets, to support your story rather than letting slides or animations present for you.

4.     TAKEAWAY:  Persuade rather than sell or teach.
I don’t think I’m alone when I say that an obvious sales pitch immediately turns me off.  And when it gets too preachy, I feel like I’m back in school. Think of your presentation as a persuasion of why the audience should fall in love with your point.  Katherine Wintsch, Founder and CEO of The Mom Complex, pulls the audience in with a well-written story that resonated with everyone in the audience at a TEDx RVA event.

5.     TAKEAWAY:  The content has to be compelling but please, keep it simple. 
Sugatra Mitra delivered a compelling talk on the future of education by building a School in the Cloud. As a researcher, he had the potential of being too technical or too descriptive, but Mitra inspires the audience with simple stories and examples. Like Mitra, keep it simple and follow the Rule of 3, serving up your content in digestible, snackable and memorable points in trios. 

AuthorHanah Holpe