This is the second of a three-part series on delivering memorable presentations. The first part on the power of presence is available here.
Public speaking can be an energizing experience for both you and your audience. Indeed, you do not have to be satisfied with merely enduring your presentation.
I’ve read much poor advice about public speaking. Scripting is a recipe for making presentations that are uncomfortable for you and unmemorable for your audience. Preparing—but not scripting—is the secret. And using PowerPoint slides can help you deliver an effective, unscripted presentation.
PowerPoint has gotten a bad rap. I would paraphrase the famous saying, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” as follows: PowerPoint doesn’t bore an audience to death, scripted speakers bore an audience to death.
Some speakers, in an attempt to reduce their fears, rehearse their talk over and over again until they know every word by heart. They leave no room for spontaneity or authenticity. Their scripted talk is almost certainly going to bore themselves and their audiences.
I prefer an approach that helps you join with your audience. Yes, preparation is essential. Preparation encompasses such things as cultivating expertise on your material and outlining your talk using PowerPoint slides—but it does not encompass knowing the specific things that you are going to say.
Cultivating expertise means studying the material that you are presenting until you have a passion for it. If you have no passion, go back, and study some more. If you have a passion for a subject, you will naturally study it on an ongoing basis.
If your presentation is to be outstanding, you need to be responsive to your audience. By responsive, I don’t mean merely answering their questions. I mean that your presentation itself is guided and influenced by the concerns and needs of those in the room. These concerns and needs are frequently unspoken.
Years ago, I was invited to give Congressional testimony on nuclear power. The norm at Congress is that you submit prepared remarks and read those remarks verbatim. I couldn’t help myself—the needs of the moment inspired me to go beyond what I had already written. I was on the final panel of experts at the end of a long day; and I assure you, the only time the bored Congressmen lifted their slumped heads was for my unscripted testimony.
Each of my PowerPoint slides makes one key point; but on the slide, I make liberal use of quotations from other authors that illustrate that point. I expect to cover no more than ten—and usually end up covering far less than ten—slides in an hour.
On each slide there is less than a minute of information to read, and yet I may talk for up to a half hour on the contents of a single slide. How? I use the key points and quotations to trigger my own responsiveness to the moment.
Frequently as I speak, I am hearing myself say something for the first time. I am excited by what I am hearing and that excitement is contagious. That may sound strange to those who deliver a scripted speech.
Being prepared but not scripted means that you trust that there is a voice inside of you that is wiser than any script and that this voice will be there for you and will be responsive to the moment. This voice will not be there for you if you don’t trust it, or if you don’t trust your audience. This voice will not be there for you if you are not prepared or if you are overly concerned about yourself.
An effective presentation means you are joining with an audience in a conversation about important ideas. If an idea is important enough, there are no final answers. When you have the humility to understand there are no final answers, you will give up scripting and allow the audience to join with you on a journey toward greater understanding.