Monthly Archives: August 2011

How to Give a Fantastically Terrible Talk

I’m a hedonist.  I fully admit that I like things that are pleasurable.  I like talks.  Wait, not I LOVE talks.  I love informative talks, talks that make me self reflect, talks that teach me, talks that inspire me, and talks that make me laugh.  But most of all, I like pleasurable talks.  By pleasurable, I mean that the talk is well presented.  Having spent four years in speech, drama, and debate, and seven years judging speech, drama, and debate, I recognize that I probably have high expectations for public speaking.  But I also view this from the perspective that my time is valuable.  If I’m going to spend 20-30 minutes driving to a location and then parking my car to see a talk, it better be worth my time.

*I made these pretty drawings in paint to disguise the identities of the speakers. 

So here’s some tips on how and how NOT to give a good presentation.

1. Appearances are important.  You might argue that looks have nothing to do with the content, but face the truth.  Pretty things are more attractive.  A beautifully presented dish is going to be recieved better than a dish that is not.  Would you eat an Uchi shag roll if it was run through a blender with a cup of sake and a tablespoon of wasabi?  I’m going to guess not, because it is going to look hideous!  Would like to read a blog post that was written in this font at 10 point?   Probably not.  It is difficult to read.  The same thing will happen if you look like a complete slob on stage.  I’m not telling you that you should be dressed in a suit, but I am saying that if you look like a mess, you’re going to have a more difficult time getting the crowd to take you seriously. 

2. For a spectacularly terrible presentation, don’t have a prepared theme or story.  While it is true that some people can wing it and that some panels are completely unpredictable, but please for the love of Thespius, show up with a theme at least.  Know your story, your angle, and have some idea of what you’re going to share with the audience.  There’s nothing worse than going to a talk where the speaker seems to have the attitude of “I’m here to talk. I’m not sure about what.”  That stinks of unpreparedness.

3. Apologize if you need to during your presentation.  Let’s say you trip over a cord  and unplug the projector.  Apologize for that and move on.  But do NOT start the presentation by saying “Sorry, I’m a really terrible speaker.” “Sorry, I didn’t sleep last night because I was wasted.” or “Sorry, I’m ill prepared for this presentation.”  The first excuse makes the audience think “the organizers should have found someone who is a good speaker.”  The other two excuses make people think that you don’t have any respect for their time.  Instead of working on a thoughtful presentation, you decided that you had other priorities in your life.  The least you could have done was to let the organizer know that you are not able to give the speech. 

If you are a terrible speaker, you don’t have to tell the audience.  Public speaking can be stressful, and even the most polished speakers make mistakes.  The audience will understand, and they’ll still like you even if you say “um………” or “er…………….”, or totally blank out.  Trust me.  It’ll all be okay.  Also, you might think you are a terrible speaker, when in reality you are a great speaker.  Don’t fret!

4. Separate the umbilical cord tethering you to the power points slide or online video.  At some venues, there will be technical failures, and you should be prepared for it.  If you cannot give your presentation without the use of a power point, then maybe you aren’t ready to give your presentation.  While photographs and video are worth 10,000,000,000,000 words, the last resort is to describe it verbally.  You can do such a good job describing the photos and videos that the lack thereof is a moot point.  I recently attended a talk that was centered around video and photography media.  The AV was okay, but the lighting in the room made the video and photographs presented look pretty washed out and unrecognizable.  Instead of killing the presentation, it actually make the presentation a million times better because the focus was on the content that the speakers shared, not the video and photographs.  The content was so interesting and compelling that the focus of the presentation (photographs and video) didn’t matter.  Also, the story telling skills of the speakers were so compelling that it did bring tears to the eyes of the audience.  Now THAT’S a good presentation.

6. We don’t want to hang out with you while you surf the web or think out loud.  A presentation should be just that, a presentation.  A presentation should not be a brainstorming session, a web searching session, or a train of thought session.  I recently went to a talk in which the presenter made a number of mistakes, but this was his fatal mistake.  Instead of having a prepared presentation, he plugged in a laptop (after 25 minutes of failed attempts) and talked to us about his feelings about some people he met and their websites.  There was no theme to the train of thought, and I learned zero.  I can browse the internet at home, thanks.  That talk made over half the attendees leave, and I tried repeatedly to use non-verbal communication to get him to stop and go home.  The only reason why I didn’t leave was because I sponsored the refreshments, and I wanted to take home my dishes. 

7. Watch your tone.  I once started a presentation on a happy note, and the person I introduced killed the mood.  She was nervous, anxious, pleading, and all around negative.  It killed the energy in the room.  Oops.  People can pick up how you feel via mirror neurons.  If you don’t want to be giving the presentation, your attendees probably don’t want to be there either.  If you make remarks about hating the local university’s mascot and colors, the crowd will probably hate you too.  Instead, put away all your ill-feelings and wear a smile. 

8. Don’t forget your filter.  This one will make you seem as if you are bit unstable.  A topic that you’re speaking about might get your riled up, and it is great to have that passion.  However, if you become so emotional that you seem like you’ve gone off your rocker or start attacking (physically or verbally) the audience, it is perhaps time to learn how to control the expression of your emotions.  I get very uncomfortable when speakers start going off on a diatribe or I feel as if they might physically hurt someone.  Never going back to one of those.  

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