Secrets for Presentation Success

9 March 2016
9 March 2016, Comments: 0


Are you nervous during presentations? Do your palms sweat, stomach dance & heart pound?

I have successfully applied the concepts from TED talks to improve my recent presentations. TED talks ( are popular conferences with the theme, “Ideas Worth Spreading.” TED talks are informative, entertaining and short.

Here’s the TED concepts from Carmine Gallo and how I applied them in my recent “Leadership at Any Level” talk:

Be passionate about your topic. Choose a topic that you care about. If you have to give a presentation on something you don’t have any passion for, try to find an aspect of it that you do care about. This could be the quality control aspect of the project, or the people on the team.

My topic “Leadership at Any Level” is a passion of mine, probably because I have seen many bad leaders in my life. I firmly believe that before anyone can be a good leader of others, they have to master leading themselves first. So my talk is aimed at the 5 skills you need to acquire to lead in your own life.

Engage the audience by telling stories. I used to start off my presentations by giving the overview of the talk and the outcomes. You know, “tell them what you are going to tell them.” Instead, I started this presentation with the story about my cancer returning in 2010 and how I had to take a leadership role in my life in order to stay away from radical surgery and turn my health around.

People remember stories and examples far more than the 5 skills. When I gave this presentation at the University of Calgary, I asked everyone to choose one action they were going to take in the next day to “up” their leadership in their own life. One gentleman replied with “Be French.” I had told a story about what my husband and I learned from sitting in Parisian cafes and just “being,” instead of rushing around. I imagine that quite a few other people will remember that story better than the skill associated with it.

Treat your speech like a conversation. Instead of pretending to be the expert, talk like you would talk with your friends. Be more casual and yourself.

I am nervous, like most people, when I give a presentation. Luckily, my normal facilitation style is interactive, so I rely on getting the audience involved in answering questions throughout my talk. This keeps people engaged, plus I tend to slow down and act more naturally. By asking for input throughout my presentation I act more like I’m in a conversation with the group instead of “speaking at them.”

Tell the audience something it doesn’t know. Most people assume that when they bring in a speaker on leadership that I’m going to talk about how to lead & motivate others. Instead, I talk about taking on a leadership role in their personal life. This is definitely a different take on leadership. Because it is something new, people are more likely to be interested and stay awake.

If you have been asked to make a presentation it is because you know something that people in the audience don’t know. So emphasize what is new and different, don’t repeat things they already know.

Include a few jaw-droppers. Telling people something that is unusual will keep them engaged in their talk. As I said, I start off my “Leadership at Any Level” presentation with sharing my experience with cancer. It is definitely a surprise to begin a “leadership presentation” with a personal health story. Plus the story is interesting because I went against my first doctor’s advice and beat the odds. (I am over five year’s cancer-free, by the way. I opted for a new doctor and additional treatments instead of surgery. The cancer did not return and I required no operations.)

Use humor. Old advice used to tell people to start with a joke. I would not recommend this – we all have difference senses of humor and it is difficult to find a joke that actually fits your topic. Instead, inject some humorous stories or comments throughout the presentation. It is works well if you are the target of the humour.

Often my humorous comments arise because of input from the participants. For example, I gave this talk for an audience in which my husband was a known member. Someone said they would need to “bring money” in response to one of my questions. I quickly added, “I just bring Frank.” Everyone laughed because they know my husband is an accountant. Most of my humour isn’t planned, it just has to fit the topic and the audience.

Keep it brief. You don’t have to tell everything you know on the subject. Choose the most important messages that you want to get across, and select the best ways to get those messages heard & remembered. TED talks are usually 18 minutes in length. TED curator Chris Anderson explained the organization’s thinking this way: “It [18 minutes] is long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention.”

Once I am comfortable speaking I can tell lots of stories to illustrate my point. However, this could get long for my listeners. So, I stick to the stories and examples in my notes, because I have practiced with them and know the approximate length of time the presentation will take.

Engage all the senses by painting word-pictures. Be creative in how you describe the situation – what would they see, smell or hear? My “Being French” story contains descriptions to help the participants almost believe they are sitting at a café nursing an aromatic, expensive cup of coffee with me.

I also use photographs on my PowerPoint, with very few words, to help people visualize the topic.

Be authentic. Tell your own stories, speak with your own voice.

I write my own blogs and presentations. I used to write & present more formally – you know, the stuff I was taught in school! Now I try to write & present as I really am. I use my natural style of talking and interacting in my presentations. This makes me more authentic and approachable.

My “Leadership at Any Level” presentation always gets positive feedback from the participants. I think it’s because I am being myself when I am presenting the information.

I will be offering the “Leadership at Any Level” presentation on my website soon. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

To be a successful presenter, adapt the TED principles. Want to be a better communicator?

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