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May 25, 2016

Presentation Lessons from a Pro

One of my favorite articles in Harvard Business Review is from Chris Anderson, curator of TED. It’s entitled “How to Give a Killer Presentation,” and it draws from 30 years of learnings since the first TED conference. TED speakers have run the gamut from political figures, musicians and TV celebrities to less familiar figures from academia and scientific circles. Yet Anderson is convinced—as I am—that giving a good talk is highly coachable. He writes, “In a matter of hours, a speaker’s content and delivery can be transformed from muddled to mesmerizing.”

Among some of Anderson’s most enlightening tips:

  • Frame your story.  “When I think about compelling presentations, I think about taking an audience on a journey. A successful talk is a little miracle—people see the world differently afterward.”
  • Don’t put too much in. “If you try to cram in everything you know, you won’t have time to include key details, and your talk will disappear into abstract language. … Limit the scope of your talk to that which can be explained, and brought to life with examples, in the available time.”
  • Think like a detective. “Many of the best talks have a narrative story that loosely follows a detective story. The speaker starts out by presenting a problem and then describes the search for a solution. There’s an ‘aha’ moment, and the audience’s perspective shifts in a meaningful way.”
  • Beware of the biggest mistakes. Number one mistake? Forgetting about the power of narrative. “If a talk fails, it’s almost always because the speaker didn’t frame it correctly, misjudged the audience’s level of interest, or neglected to tell a story. Even if the topic is important, random pontification without narrative is always deeply unsatisfying.”
  • Pay attention to your tone. “Some speakers may want to come across as authoritative or wise or powerful or passionate, but it’s usually much better to just sound conversational. Don’t force it. Don’t orate. Just be you.”
  • Hone your best stage presence. “There are some people who are able to walk around a stage during a presentation, and that’s fine if it comes naturally. But the vast majority are better off standing still and relying on hand gestures for emphasis.”
  • Make eye contact. “Perhaps the most important physical act onstage is making eye contact.”
  • Handle nerves. Proven advice: simply breathe deeply.
  • Have something to say. “If you have something to say, you can build a great talk. But if the central theme isn’t there, you’re better off not speaking.”

Which tips struck a chord with you?

- David Grossman


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