How Not to Bore Your Audience to Tears: 10 Tips for Your Next Speech

Tonight I deliver my first speech based on the book. Being acutely aware of the importance of practicing what I preach, here are 10 rules I’m adhering to in the development and presentation of the material:

1. Dump PowerPoint and templates

I did this in KeyNote instead of PowerPoint, which pretty much enforces mediocrity. And even with Keynote, I pretty much erased the templates and started from scratch. The inspiration came from the people who posted 10 Tips for Designing Presentations That Don’t Suck.

2. Be visually interesting

Of the 60 slides, almost 50 are full-frame photos, using a half-dozen or fewer words. I felt the pressure of Seth Godin’s advice in his classic Really Bad Powerpoint post.

3. Don’t steal people’s intellectual property

I could have paid for stock photos. It would have been faster, but expensive. So I did the hard work of sifting through sites like stock.xchng and Flicker’s creative commons collection and found some really stunning — and free — images like this and this and the one at the top. (And I duly credited the owners.) I also used some of my own photos, including the one at the end of this post. In fact, I’m going to make a list and commission my own custom photos for as much of my content as possible.

4. Don’t read your slides

As a result of the approach in #2, all of the script is in my head and in a few bullet point notes I’ll be referring to keep on track.

5. Customize the content

In the event invitation, I had the organizers ask participants to name their greatest communication challenge and have incorporated most of their two-dozen questions into the presentation itself or into the discussion segments.

6. Allow for plenty of audience interaction

I’ve got a two-hour block. Of that, only half of that time will be me delivering prepared material. The rest will be time for questions, participation and group exercises.

7. Don’t relegate the Q&A to the end

I don’t expect or want my audience members to sit on their hands and wait to speak until the end, quietly rehearsing their questions in their heads instead of listening. Q&A time will be interspersed throughout the presentation after key sections.

8. Be interactive

In addition to the Q&A, I’ll be asking questions and expecting the audience to fill in a few answers. I’ll keep them engaged, checking in with them on key points to see if they have anything to add. And I’ll get them on their feet, with participation opportunities and group exercises.

9. Perform it

Using the skills I learned from acting, I will deliver the words with intention and purpose. I will commit my full energy to the performance. I will invoke emotion. I will not check out or go on auto-pilot. I will look my audience in the eyes. I will judge the mood and energy of the room and adjust accordingly. And I will tell stories.

10. Have a backup plan

More than one, actually. Nothing’s worse than sitting around waiting for a speaker to get his technology working. I’m going to try running the presentation off my iPad2, connected to the room’s flat screen TV, using my iPhone as a remote. As a backup, I will bring my laptop to connect with the TV and use my Apple remote. As a backup to that, I will have notes in hand and am prepared to proceed with no visuals at all.

Finally, I’ll be accountable, reporting here if all my tough words turns out to be tripe and the presentation is a disaster.

Top photo: Higher 2 by Sanja Gjenero. Some rights reserved.

Bottom photo: courtesy of the author.

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