Whether it's for a class or an interview, a conference or a student organization, a pitch to investors or any act that requires persuasion, you will have to give a presentation at some point in your life, probably one of high importance, maybe even tomorrow.
If you're the nervous type, there may just be no better person to take advice from than the British curator of a set of conferences that regularly sees the world's best minds take the stage expressing ideas and thoughts in so efficient a way that you can only dream to emulate. That man is Chris Anderson and he recently spoke to the Harvard Business Review on how to provide a killer presentation.
"A successful talk," Anderson said, "is a little miracle — people see the world differently afterward. If you frame the talk as a journey, the biggest decisions are figuring out where to start and where to end."
While Anderson states that the best of presentations have the ability to do big things, he also says that it doesn't require talking big, as he warns that speakers can lose their audiences if they try and make their speeches too complex.
"To find the right place to start, consider what people in the audience already know about your subject — and how much they care about it," he said. "If you assume they have more knowledge or interest than they do, or if you start using jargon or get too technical, you’ll lose them. The most engaging speakers do a superb job of very quickly introducing the topic, explaining why they care so deeply about it, and convincing the audience members that they should, too."
The curator continues to hark on the importance of telling a good story -- "ideas and stories fascinate us" -- and while Anderson stressed the ability to be engaging as a key skill required to have each member of the audience hanging on your every word, he also attributed the downfall of many presentations to something simple: practice, particularly the lack of it.
"Most people go through what I call the 'valley of awkwardness,' where they haven’t quite memorized the talk," the Brit said. "If they give the talk while stuck in that valley, the audience will sense it. Their words will sound recited, or there will be painful moments where they stare into the middle distance...This creates distance between the speaker and the audience."
A lack of practice may not be the only thing that causes presenters to stumble during speeches, though. The simple prospect of being on stage can prove frightening for speakers, but that is an aspect that Anderson deems overrated.
If a person is a little timid on stage, Anderson advises that just finding friendly faces to make contact with can develop what he calls stage presence.
"That eye contact is incredibly powerful, and it will do more than anything else to help your talk land," he said. "Even if you don’t have time to prepare fully and have to read from a script, looking up and making eye contact will make a huge difference."
Anderson may have offered this solution but, overall, he says that nervousness is not much of a big deal and should never destroy your perfect presentation.
"In general, people worry too much about nervousness. Nerves are not a disaster."
Photo via Wikipedia, via Harvard Business Review