Should you use PowerPoint? Should you have your speaking notes on index cards? Podium or not? All valid questions, but none of them really matter.
Just today someone sent me an email asking if I use PowerPoint, what kind of mic I prefer, do I have speaking notes on stage? etc… It’s flattering that people think so highly of my public speaking skills, and – in the interest of full disclosure – I work very hard at trying to be a better speaker and a better presenter. Like many people trying to figure out the best way to give a compelling presentation, I’ve spent many long years studying the trade. I’ve read many great books (for a list, please see below), worked with all sorts of coaches – from speaking and presentation skills to stand-up comics, and spend serious time attending conferences, not just for the content, but to watch and learn from my fellow speakers (watching online videos of great presenters helps as well).
It’s an art, but there is one specific piece of speaking that can take you extremely far in a short amount of time (and it makes all of the other details irrelevant).
My old self-defense coach, Tony Blauer, always used to say, "practice doesn’t make perfect… perfect practice makes perfect." Translating that to the world of giving speeches and presentations: know your content. Know your content inside and out. Know your content to the point that the speaking notes don’t matter. Know your content to the point where the slides don’t matter (and that includes when your computer crashes during a presentation or when you lose your place in the written text). The moment those butterflies in your stomach turn from instances of fear and anxiety into energy and excitement is the moment that a speaker makes the transition from presenting to being at one with their content.
Content, content, content.
In the world of real estate it’s all about location, location, location. In the world of presenting, it is all about content, content, content. Some people misinterpret the word "content" for having the "best content" or the "most unique content." I’ve seen many great speakers present content that wasn’t all that compelling, new and fresh, and even their delivery was not flawless, but because they knew their content (inside and out), their confidence in presenting that content catapulted them above the rest.
Instead of practicing every word you’re about to say or trying to remember which slide goes with which one of your points, start thinking about presenting differently…
The great books listed below will help you understand things like presentation structure, proper slide design, better body language skills, but none of them will help you get better at loving your content and knowing it so well that you don’t need accessories like a podium, index cards, slides, a confidence monitor, etc… You have to own your content. Nothing can help you get there except for putting the time and effort into knowing the topic you are going to talk about. Most people worry about the other stuff because they think it can help them improve the overall speaking experience (or make them less nervous). It might, but not by much. The nerves turn into positive energy the moment you own your content. That’s it.
Know your content. That’s what the best presenters do. Everything else is superfluous.
Recommended reading list: