What makes a great presentation? Twelve simple steps.

I do a lot of talks. I used to do talks about sustainability and because I am funny I got used lots – no-one expects humour and green stuff. Then I realised that changing people’s minds on sustainability is one of the hardest things to do. It’s really disruptive. You’re messing with product design, business models, and strategy. So now I get asked to talk about disruption. Again, because I’m funny I get used a lot. I love it, it’s my element.

But it wasn’t always like that. The first big talk I did was in 1993. I’d written an book thingie for the CTC on the financial benefits of cycling versus driving. I’d been asked to present the report. I’d recently bought an Amiga that had amazing graphics so my OHP foils (remember those?) were beautiful. I’d written a script and learnt most of it. But despite all that I was shitting myself. I bottled it. Completely. I read the presentation out. No-one complained but I knew I’d messed up. I never made that mistake again. I then spent the next six years running a small (when we started, huge when we stopped) green business club in Bradford and i had to speak and compere every couple of weeks. In that time I found my voice. That’s the key to great presentations.

Last week I attended a great. event. The event was about digital disruption. The thing is that half of talks weren’t great. The other half were breathtaking. I spent some time distilling why. For what it’s worth here are my top 12 tips for public speaking:

1 define your purpose. What is your purpose, why are you there? I don’t mean on the stage, I mean generally. Define this. Let it run through your talk like “Blackpool” through a stick of rock. No preaching but clarity of purpose.

2 how do you want the audience to feel after? Yes feel, not do. Do will follow the feeling. Think about how you want them to feel and behave. Keep that larger, intangible goal in mind.

3 do not sell. Great talks don’t sell. They are not pitches. Don’t sell what you do. Explain why you do it and why people should care. Reassure, enthuse, inform, entertain. Do that and people will buy.

4 work on your style. There is no right or wrong style. There is no roadmap for interesting. This will depend upon you, who you are, what you are enthused by. This is your voice you are looking for. Think about you on a great day, at your most eloquent, when you are in your power. That’s what we are looking for. Good-enough is rarely good enough. I’ve watched some shit presentations. Some boring presenters. Genuinely boring. This is rarely the content. Nearly always the delivery style.

5 really think about slides. I speak with and without them. I use lots when I use them. But they are pictorial and fast. Either way, you need to be able to deliver it without them. You need to know your onions but not stick to a script. This breeds confidence. Which makes for brilliant delivery. I’ve had to deliver talks on things that I know nothing about. Surprise, surprise: they were average. Average is a crowded market. I don’t want to be there.

6 be human. Engage with people. Connect with your eyes. If you can walk about a bit. I like to walk into the audience, ask questions, engage. Physical dynamism helps keep attention. Eye contact helps build a relationship.

7 refer to or build on other talks. Weaving a golden thread through talks is a rare skill but people like it. At least work hard to bring current events into your talk. It keeps it fresh. Makes it feel current even if you’ve delivered it 30 times.

8 use humour. But don’t script it. People like to smile, they want to be entertained.

9 give a performance not a presentation. This is difficult. There’s that excruciating “motivational” talk that Brent does on The Office. You know the one, where he opens the door at the beginning and tells them all to get out. That one. Yep its shit. But I’ve seen worse. Great performance comes with confidence, purpose and relevance.

10 tell stories. Yes i know we are all bored of storytelling, particularly in the brand world but it works. Build your content around real stories. Don’t stick stories on to your content.

11 protect your content. I’ve sat in an audience and watched a competitor use my slides. Clearly they didn’t use them as well as I do as they hadn’t the confidence in the content. But it does you no good to have your great content delivered badly. Lock your stuff down but free your stories.

12 smile, it’s free.

My book – Do Disrupt: Change the status quo or become it.

Do Disrupt day course: book here

The Do Lectures: more info here

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