157. Mindset of a Presenter/Public Speaker

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Make your message matter to the audience.
Your message must matter, else stay quiet.
You are on the stage for the audience, not for yourself.
You are not trying to impress the audience.
And when (if) the audience applaudes, accept it with humility. Don’t interrupt. Don’t sound apologetic. Don’t be a jerk.
Learn. Unlearn. Relearn.

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147. Making Presentations Matter

(Published on The Kathmandu Post national daily, July 25, 2016)

Making Presentations Matter

Let me assume that you have seen a lot of presentations, and that you have also delivered many of them. For a few minutes, imagine that you were an observer in these two situations.

Situation 1:

You are watching a student do a presentation of an assignment. He stands in front of the classroom, frozen with nervousness. He mumbles and stammers, takes many awkward pauses, and mostly reads from the slides. Occasionally, he looks at you and at the rest of the audience as if to scream that he wants to avoid the ordeal. You find no connection, and you feel you have wasted your time.

Situation 2:

You are in a seminar hall. A highly acclaimed professor is giving a presentation on her recent research findings. She talks about the title of her research (which is like 70 words long full of archaic words), objectives, questions, methodology, findings, interpretations, and so on. You wish to be somewhere else because she is lecturing you back to Research Methods class. Her presentation slogs like a monologue on a slow train towards boredom.

You probably have been in both situations. And you must have been eager to leave the room. On occasions, when you couldn’t, you must have felt the dullness of the presentations chocking your enthusiasm. Why do most of the presentations suck? In agony, you must have muttered.

Some of the regular responses would be: the presenter is not prepared, the slides are outrageous and stuffed, the content is boring, the presenter doesn’t have proper eye contact, the presenter speaks too fast or too slow, the presenter exceeds the time. These are all valid reasons.

But let me argue that most presentations suck not because of the presenter’s skills, nor his or her knowledge of the content, or the lack of eye contact, or bad body language. Most presentations suck because of the intent.

If you have wanted only to impress your audience, clients, customers, or teachers with your presentation skills, you know deep down inside that you have only half-succeeded. Because your intention primarily was just to make an impression. Not to create an impact, nor to make a difference. You wanted applauds. You wanted grades.

Your intent – the core reason – will either make or break your presentation.

So before you set out for a presentation, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Do you intend just to deliver a stunning presentation or do you also intend to create an impact?
  2. Do you just want to showcase a bunch of shiny slides or do you also want to inspire action?
  3. Do you just care about your message or do you also care about the audience?

When you ask these questions, you will eventually see a clear picture. You will understand that you must put impact over impression. You will know that your job as a presenter is to be useful, be relentless, and be humble. That’s your core. And, you will find ways to structure your message, to design your slides, and to deliver your content – so that you just don’t talk, you also change minds, touch hearts, and transform lives.

Let your presentation skills amplify your intent – to disrupt patterns, break conventions, and inspire actions.

Now, please put yourself as a presenter in both situations I talked about earlier. You have sharpened your axes. You know your content. And you know your intent. You are determined to be useful, relentless, and humble. You care about your audience – their needs, their happiness, and their expectations.

Then, your presentation will matter. You will matter.

110. Public Speaking Guideline #3

If you think about it, all the rules of communication are just a rule of thumb. Sometimes being confident works, but sometimes it doesn’t. Being vulnerable seems to work as well. There is no way of finding out which works – being confident or being vulnerable – unless we know about our audience and the context.

These two videos have a lot of validity under their belt and probe into the neglected part of the science of communication and human connection.

The power of powerless communication: Adam Grant at TEDxEast

The power of vulnerability: Brene Brown