A Smart Tip From Bruce Springsteen on How to Rock Any Presentation

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If you speak or have to give a presentation on stage, you want always want to do your best.

We’ve heard the countless stories about public speaking… or should we call it the “fear of public speaking.” Most people dread it. Some people push on through it. Most people find the vast majority of presentations to be bland. Some people work hard to get better at it. Most people don’t. This is why corporate events can (mostly) be so hit or miss. The content matters. The speakers that event organizers put up on stage matter. Our leaders who must get up in front of their employees matter. Every chance to engage with an audience is an opportunity to not only change mindsets, but to engage with that audience. The audience is either investing more with the speaker or divesting themselves of the speaker’s ideas based on their presentation skills. I’ve seen it before and I will say it again: I know many popular speakers who are (as my friend Avinash Kaushik calls it) “content free,” but they still kill it on stage, because they’re funny, engaging, tell stories in a unique way, are captivating and/or have some kind of “it” factor working for them. It takes a lot of work to get good a public speaking. It takes a ton of harder work to be great at it. When someone watches a great speaker and says, “they’re a natural” at it, they usually don’t know just how hard that person has worked to make things look so natural and easy. Public speaking is a very tricky skill to get good at. Trust me, I’ve been working on it for close to two decades (and still working very hard at it).

One tip… what would be your one tip to get better at speaking in public?

The other day, I was walking to work and listening to the Bruce Springsteen autobiography, Born To Run, on audiobook. Bruce was talking about his early days. The days when his musicianship was at a higher level than his performance skills and showmanship. Before all of the attention, the sweat, the rock and roll, and the rapport with his band. He was learning how to build a show… how to become a persona on stage. Not just a songwriter with a message, but someone who could entertain everyone who was in the audience… even those all the way at the back. From the book: 

“My good friend Peter Wolf, the great front man from the J. Geils Band, once said, ‘The strangest thing you can do onstage is think about what you’re doing.’ He was right, and I am doing the strangest thing you can do onstage RIGHT NOW! … That’s why people pay the money and that’s why they call it LIVE.”

You have to get out of your head and into the moment.

The problem with public speaking is that most presenters are not as well prepared as they should be. They lack confidence in their content. They have not rehearsed the presentation enough. They have left things to the last minute, and the presentation has not had enough time to sink in. The comfort in the content and knowing the basic presentation (inside and out) is what leads to performance improvement. Once you know the song, how it is played, and how the other band members are playing it, you can really let yourself get lost in the performance of it. This idea is not just for legendary rock bands. It’s a great way to think about any public presentation… because every presentation is a performance. If you’re up on stage, and all you’re thinking about is what slide is next or which point you must hit, it’s going to get strange up there. The speaker won’t be live and “in the now,” which is what the audience wants and deserves. Springsteen figured this out. You should figure it out as well. 

Simple… simple is hard.

The next time you see an awesome presentation, ask yourself if the speaker is performing “in the moment” or if they’re thinking about what they’re supposed to do next… or say next or… you get the idea. I’m guessing that with this knowledge you now have a firm dividing line between the speakers that you think are great, and those who are lacking. It’s a great way to think about your presentation as well. Are you there, live and in the moment, or are you thinking too much about everything else?

Don’t think about what you’re doing on stage. Be there. Live… and in the moment.