Giving a solid presentation is a must for any entrepreneur looking to sell their vision to hire employees, gain fans, followers, or supporters, and raise capital. To help them communicate their ideas effectively, Shel Israel decided to write a new book titled Stellar Presentations: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Giving Great Talks. The book shares stories about brilliant speakers who remain fresh in his mind years later, and those who “memorably sucked.”
A social media expert, Israel is also the author of Twitterville: How Businesses Can Thrive in the New Global Neighborhoods and coauthor (with Robert Scoble) of Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers.
Israel doesn’t want your presentations to suck – and neither do we – so we are delighted to share this excerpt from Stellar Presentations. If you like it, you can order the entire book.
When blogging first started to catch on in business, Dave Winer, who created and evangelized the new way of communicating, advised content authors to “come as you are.”
What he meant was that people shouldn’t worry about an occasional grammar gaffe or typo. Such flaws in your published work demonstrated your authenticity. It showed that there was a real person speaking, not some official corporate spokesperson.
I think it remains good advice for bloggers today and I think the advice holds true for startup presentations.
We tend to trust “people like us.” Richard Edelman, head of the world’s largest independent PR agency conducts an annual “Trust Barometer” poll and in several recent years, he found people trust those who look, feel and sound like they do, rather than polished business people or actors or professional athletes.
The painful irony is that people who sound like you and me, often get on the stage and try to sound like someone entirely less trustworthy.
I have watched a friend, who is filled with a passion and contagious candid style, step onto the dais for his company presentation and suddenly sound like a Fox newscaster.
It was like he assumed a secret identity.
Here are some of the afflictions different speakers suffer:
Pedantic professor syndrome. For some reason, perfectly articulate people start talking like they were lecturing in a classroom on Pleistocene geology. They lull you to sleep by using words you’ve never heard and quoting philosophers you’ve never read.
When small words like “use,” are replaced with longer words such as “utilize” that mean precisely the same thing, it’s a big hint that there’s a pedantic professor onstage.
Big words don’t make you sound smarter—just duller.
Jargon. Every industry has its insider language. You may have to introduce a word or two and you should briefly define them for the outsiders in the room. Use too many and you will lose everyone except the insiders.
Clichés. These are first cousins to jargon. But instead of using a term no one has heard, you use one everyone has heard too many times before.
A few of the most senior clichés include, ‘all new,’ ‘imagine… ,’ ‘It’s really that simple… ,’ and, of course, ‘If you’re like me … .’ Such phrases have worn thinner than the Arctic ice cap.
Artificial costuming. Presenters worry a lot about attire. At tech conferences, it’s less important than you may think. Just make sure your clothing is not distracting or outrageous. I try to dress similar to attendees, but one click up, to imply that I consider addressing them to be important.
My first consideration is comfort. I almost never wear something I have not worn before, and I never wear garments that don’t feel like a perfect fit. I want clothing that feels like an old friend and lets me move around without having to smooth or adjust anything.
I’m comfortable in a suit, but hate neckties. The only way you will get me to wear one is at a formal event.
Clothing is part of the first impression you make as you walk on stage, but then it should fade into the background as you speak and introduce your product. Choose apparel that supports you without threatening to upstage you.
Besides, people rarely remember what you wore after the event unless you selected something outrageous. Don’t choose anything that will compete with you for attention.
A few examples:
Shoes that click or clack. It is wisest if the audience never notices anything about your footwear. If their attention is down there, they may be missing your words or product demo. Shoes that have taps or tassels are a speaker liability.
Women very often pick high heel shoes that may make them look great. But if they cause any difficulty in walking, or standing still for an extended period, they can hurt a presentation.
No moving experiences. Likewise, when you are presenting, you need to be sure that you are wearing nothing that jingles, jangles, swings, sways or otherwise distracts.
Stay solid. If your talk is to be video recorded, patterned clothing—particularly checks and small plaids may appear to be in independent motion, causing a distraction for viewers. It’s wisest to go solid.
Be cool. One important little factoid: the temperature is often set to make the room feel comfortable to a seated attendee. But you will be standing and heat rises. If you are standing on the same floor as where your audience is sitting, your head will be one degree warmer than theirs, because it is higher up. If you are standing on a stage, it could be as much four degrees warmer. While attendees watch you in comfort, you may start perspiring in a most unappealing way. See if you can ask the producer to set the room temperature down a little bit.
Find friendly faces. It is important to engage the audience and this involves both body language and eye contact. Frequently, speakers are advised to look into the eyes of attendees. But there could be hundreds of them and it becomes impractical.
When I start to speak I look for one friendly face in each section of the room and my eyes move from one perceived supporter to the next. It creates the illusion that I have great eye contact when, in fact, I’ve looked at only a few people.
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