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How to Give Captivating Presentations

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We are all performers.

Michael Port

While you might think only entertainers and big speakers give performances, you’re constantly in situations where you’re telling stories, persuading people to act on your ideas, and choosing which pieces of your character to share with others…exactly the same things that actors and presenters do on stage.

Thinking of yourself as a performer is wonderful because it allows you to take greater control over how you present yourself in every situation.

Last month we chose Steal the Show as our Science of People book club book to learn public speaking strategies from Michael Port, an actor turned coach who teaches people how to give winning performances in every area of their lives.

Here are seven action-packed strategies from the book that you can use to start mastering the performances in your life (plus some of our favorite speeches and talks).

Get even more public speaking tips with our related resources:

Act “As if…”

One of the biggest challenges people face when they’re put on the spot –  whether it’s giving a presentation to a large audience or in an argument with someone –  is that their negative thoughts prevent them from thinking clearly and coming up with an appropriate response.

Port argues the easiest way to boost your confidence in any situation is by acting as if you feel prepared to handle whatever is thrown at you.

For example:

  • Act as if…you don’t have stage fright.
  • Act as if…you’re confident in your opinions.
  • Act as if…you feel like you belong.

The strategy can be hard at first and requires you to practice envisioning the best possible outcomes, but it’s a great way to handle any difficult situation.

Here’s Steve Job’s final keynote at Apple:

Cut Excess Information

Regardless of whether you’re giving a ten minute pitch or an hour long speech with 100+ slides, carefully read your content several times to make sure there is no excess information.

As you go through each point, story and detail, ask yourself: is this necessary to ensure your audience is engaged and understands your message? If it’s not, cut it. The more concise you make your content, the more powerful it becomes because it prevents your audience from getting bored or confused by details that don’t matter. Plus, it sets a precedent that everything you say is valuable.

Be in the Moment

As important as it is to rehearse and master your presentation, you don’t want to get so caught up in it that you become like a robot reciting a speech and ignoring your audience.

The best speakers are engaging because they are attuned to their audience’s feelings and what they need from them.

For example, if you’re explaining a data-driven part of your speech and you see many people’s eyes glazing over, you know that you’re boring your audience. When this happens you need to regain their attention by telling a joke, making an interesting point, sharing a story etc.

Or perhaps you see several people furiously taking notes. This is a cue that you should slow down to give them time to record the information they want.

Being in the moment enough to notice subtle changes in your audience allows you to deliver a more effective speech by responding to their needs in the moment.

Check out Jim Carrey’s audience engagement and presence:

YouTube video

Plan Your Presentation with Your Audience in Mind

Port believes that the key to creating an effective presentation is to keep your audience at the forefront of your mind so that you serve them to the best of your ability.

In the book, he tells readers to ask themselves these questions before creating any content:

  • What type of performance are you going to give? Ex. A pitch to investors, a thirty minute keynote talk, a team progress report etc.
  • Who is the audience of the performance? Ex. a picky investor, marketing professionals, your superiors.
  • How will your audience benefit? Ex. A share in your growing and innovative company, info about new marketing strategies, knowledge about your team’s growth and how it affects the company.
  • What is your call to action? Ex. You want them to: invest in your company, purchase your educational materials, act on an idea your team proposed.

By asking yourself these questions when you first start planning your presentation, it minimizes how much anxiety you’ll experience wondering if your audience is going to like what you say because you’ve designed your speech to meet their needs.

Shawn Achor’s TED Talk on Happiness is one of our favorites:

Don’t Be Boring

No matter how great and vital your message is, you’ll never inspire your audience to take action if you bore them with a static, monotone presentation.

The easiest way to be more interesting is to add contrast to your content and body language. You can do this by alternating between stories and data, changing the tone of your voice to reflect the emotion and/or importance of what you’re saying, and using hand gestures and movement so you are a dynamic speaker to watch as well as to listen to.

If you’re not used to incorporating these kinds of elements into your presentation, spend time watching TED talks and videos of other great speakers in your industry and mimic their actions. Practice on your own until it feels natural so you don’t look awkward on stage.

David Blaine’s TED Talk on holding his breath for 17 minutes is definitely anti-boring:

Take Rehearsal to a Whole New Level

The biggest mistake people make is failing to rehearse enough. If you want to give a presentation that is compelling enough to inspire audiences to listen to your call to action, you need to give yourself plenty of time to prepare so when you step on stage you know your presentation inside and out.

You can take your rehearsal to the next level by practicing in phases.

Phase #1: Read your content aloud to yourself or with a trusted friend. Make adjustments until the structure of your content flows, sounds natural, and conveys your message.

Phase #2: Practice your movements, body language, and props. This is the step that most people forget to do; they have brilliant content but look awkward on stage because they’re too stiff, don’t know what to do with their hands, or haven’t practiced with their props in cases of presentations like product demos.

Phase #3: Hold at least one full dress rehearsal. Invite a couple of your friends or colleagues to watch you give your presentation wearing the outfit you plan to wear on the day of and practice as if it was your actual presentation.

Be Prepared to Improvise 

Public speaking is unpredictable. From faulty projectors to last minute changes to what you need to present, problems inevitably arise and if you’re not prepared, they can ruin everything.

The benefit of going through an in-depth rehearsal process isn’t just so you feel confident in your knowledge of your presentation but so when things go wrong, you know your content and behavioral script so well that you can present regardless of what comes your way.

The simplest way to boost your improv skills is to practice your presentation in mock worst-case scenarios like being without slides or hearing about an issue with your product right before you give a pitch to investors.

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