One More Important Thing About Presenting…

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Being memorable is one thing. Being authentic is another.

The other day, someone directed me to a public speaking coach who is said to be an "expert amongst experts." I watched their YouTube video demo reel with interest, but it left me with a very bad taste in my mouth. Was the content strong? Yes. Were they discussing important aspects of what makes a presentation connect with an audience? Yes. Were they a powerful presenter? Meh.

Remember, you’re presenting, not performing, but the best presentations are also authentic performances.

If you need to concentrate on one thing to take your presentations to the next level (once you have hammered home the basics), let it be this: don’t overtly perform. Be natural. Be authentic. The best presentations shouldn’t feel like something you would see in a b movie. A public presentation should never be a platform that becomes an over-acted monologue. It’s not authentic and it leaves the audience feeling uncomfortable.

Over-acted monologues happen when you memorize your content and over-practice it.

I can see the eyes rolling right now: "Mitch thinks that if you memorize your speech and practice it too much, it’s the wrong way to get it right!" No, that’s not what I’m saying. You have to know, live and breathe your content. You have to be able to deliver that content in a powerful and memorable way, but you have to know when you have crossed the line. You have to know when you’re no longer presenting with passion, but regurgitating memorized lines and trying to perform each line out instead of delivering the content with what I’ll call a "quiet confidence."

Quiet confidence will take you far.

You may be thinking that true motivational speakers like Anthony Robbins, Gary Vaynerchuk, Jeffrey Gitomer, Les Brown and other are anything but quiet, but you would be wrong. They are practiced, well-rehearsed, know their content inside and out and deliver it in a very authentic way that is reflective of their individual personalities. I’ve had the pleasure of both sharing the stage and watching these speakers command the platform like no others. They are not different people when you meet them on the street. In fact, I would argue that they’re not really performing in as much as they are amping up who they are by about 20% to create more energy and passion from the stage.

Every line is delivered with mastery.

The reason the public speaking coach mentioned at the beginning of this Blog post failed to "wow" his audience is because they have probably spent too much time in front of a full-length mirror. They’re busy practicing each syllable and hand gesture to the point where the intent and the spirit of the content is all but lost in what has morphed from a public presentation into an over-acted monologue. Dave Matthews Band had a big hit called, ‘The Space Between‘. That’s the space you have to focus on. Extremes rarely work in a public address because people are looking for content from someone they can relate to… and that finding the right performance in that kind of moment of delivery is all about the space between knowing your content cold and over-acting it. When you’re practicing, practice working on that space between what’s real and what’s fake.

What’s your take?


  1. I indeed fell short on a recent presentation where I over-practiced.
    The one that preceded it – one where I was terrified because I had little time to prepare – turned out to be home run!
    Your insights are right on.

  2. I completely agree Mitch. I didn’t realize that the great speakers practiced until about a year ago. I thought they just knew their content inside and out and were brilliantly gifted speakers. I enjoy speaking in front of an audience but I used to stumble and hem and haw.. until I started practicing. I’m not a “great” speaker yet, but I’m getting better through practice. And knowing my content allows me to comfortably interject thoughts and not come across as overly rehearsed. (I hope! LOL )

  3. Radio & podcasting are great foundations to build from when it comes to public speaking. I fell into radio by being at the right place and the right time. Someone was out sick and I had a face for radio. The PD asked me to cover the evening shift for the week. He took a risk. After two hours of time in the on-air studio with the afternoon shift, it was my turn. Five after the hour when I opened the mic, my glasses fogged up. After stumbling through the break, the private line in the studio rang. It was another staff member. I remember to this day what he said “You’re doing fine. turn down the headphones and stop worrying about what you sound like. Just picture a friend on the other side of the studio on your next break”. Those three sentences forever changed my approach to presentation. On or off stage, the mere presence of a friendly face in the back of my mind keeps me centered on what is important. Being myself. Moving from radio to the stage required learning some body language rules, but at the end of the day, having to get people to stay focused when you are not present makes all the difference in the world when you are.

  4. I gave my first presentation this year and I made all the classic mistakes – muttered “um” too often, too many slides, and even brought flash cards! But luckily it was a small, forgiving group and I got to learn the easy way. Being authentic, and having a conversation with the audience is my main focus now. Knowing my content inside out for questions is also very important!

  5. Mitch, my first impression of you was in a HubSpot webinar. Two words to sum up your presentation were enthusiasm and authenticity. Not overly polished, but obvious mastery of the topic. It was absolutely infectious.
    Too much polish makes me suspicious in business, just as in church!

  6. I was the president of a public speaking society in graduate school. I know how difficult it is to speak publicly well. I thought this was a very interesting post. Most people, including me, are still working on the fundamentals, but Mitch’s suggestions take you from being a good speaker to being a great speaker.

  7. My biggest goal in life is to be a motivational speaker Mitch. I have several years of acting experience in local theater and that helps me tremendously.
    The best speeches I have ever made had very little preparation, and came straight from the heart. When I talk “from my head” it becomes a canned speech, and is not remarkable at all.
    This is a great reminder not to perform, but to relate. People don’t want to be pandered to. They want real stories that resonate with them.

  8. Hi Mitch.
    Thanks for the post, it sounds really right.
    For me the key is to create an emotional connection with the public. There are several ways to achieve that. Certainly over preparation and acting might not. We need to connect at the real, emotional level to be able to leverage the speech. Authenticity is certainly a key ingredient, as can be humor, expressed deep emotions, curiosity and interest for other people etc
    I feel that in today’s world, which is so changed by the Fourth Revolution, what we will value more and more will the emotional connection. Public appearances like talks need to bring that as an added value – otherwise the audience will soon pick up their i-phones and blackberries where they can get the same content (or better yet) without the emotional connection anyway!

  9. I have seen some of those presenters, overacting and all, and I share your doubt about how effective that can really be. I prefer a presentation style which makes you feel more like you’re listening to a friend talking rather than an actor at some theatre play. Of course I have to believe if they do it like that, it pays for them somehow. I guess in the end it’s a matter of sticking to the style that best suits you according to what you want to accomplish and with whom.

  10. Were they a powerful presenter? Meh. ~ Your critique of the “expert” is timely as my colleagues and myself have had a few “we agree to disagree” conversations in regard to your opening paragraph.
    My question to you, “Should a public/presentation coach give presentations?” Are they a coach or are they a presenter? Does the football coach play on the field with the players. Does a film director become part of his production as an actor?
    I believe that the role of a coach is a different job description than the person who actually performs the job. A coach’s expert status is defined as the role of an observer, critic, and the ability to bring out the best in the people they work with.
    The question is, “Are you looking for a presenter to inspire you?” or “Are you looking for a presentation coach to bring out the best in you as a presenter?”
    I think they are two different animals. What do you think?

  11. As someone who is trying to shift over from “teacher” to “speaker” this is really helpful Mitch.
    Rehearsed to the point of automaton doesn’t resonate with anyone. But going over material as if it’s the first time you’ve seen it right along with the audience backfires too. Somewhere, there’s a happy medium.
    Thanks for the insight!

  12. As someone who has recently entered the keynote speaking circuit in Australia, I must say all of these are excellent points and I wish I had read this earlier.
    One point I would make (and I guess it’s the reason I personally love presenting) is get a laugh….just one genuine laugh from your audience (depending on the topic of course) but it makes a world of difference as far as the level of intimacy and rapport you have with the audience goes. But do it in a natural manner where it integrates with the story.
    Also have your own quirks and don’t be afraid to be yourself. When I first presented I got a lot of “that was good but so not you/so uptight”..BE YOURSELF! Your personality should reflect in your presentation style (in my case that’s somewhere in between a stand-up comedian and Leonard from BIG BANG THEORY)
    And finally, be relevant/updated. I find using things which are relevant in the media as examples and again…adding your own quirks help. I.e when I was presenting on Global Trends recently and touching on the growth of Social Networking, I used Charlie Sheen as one of the examples, few weeks down the track when doing the same presentation, I then used the Earthquake in NZ and the use of Social Networks there as the example. The overall theme stayed the same and so did the slide, but I found the audience was more engaged when the examples I was using were relevant.

  13. Jay Baer is another incredible speaker – his presentation of The Now Revolution is flawless. Funny, heartwarming, authentic, yet empowering. Made me want to run out and figure out how to be more like him, and put his suggestions to work in our company.

  14. I’m having trouble with the over-practicing part; after I’ve created a good presentation and done it a few times, I see how I can improve it. I take the lessons of improv and figure out better ways to get the point across.
    I’m not Gary Vaynerchuk- I’m naturally an introvert who sometimes has to reverse engineer my extroversion. I’ve come a long way through Toastmasters, stand up, and improv.
    A well designed, evolving speech is not necessarily bad.. And it wouldn’t be better if some introvert with no skills said it in a blah way. I think there’s some truth to what you’re saying but there must be an authentic good way to improve your talks, no?

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