Keep It Brief

by Peter Watts

A quote widely associated with the actor James Dean can be taken as interesting, if unusual, advice for presenters:

James Dean

 “Die young and leave a great looking corpse!”

This translates for presenters as:

“Finish early and leave a great closing impact.”

As presenters we hope to make a message-shaped impression in the mind of an audience rather than James Dean’s Porsche-shaped impression in the side of a road, but the fundamental idea is the same; quit while you’re ahead!

I recently heard a presenter who held my attention from the moment he stood up. He showed confidence, clarity, and control over his subject. It was great public speaking; Easy to listen to, informative, and much sooner than I expected, over!

The speaker had concluded, point proved and argument summarized. The audience meanwhile would have happily listened a little longer.

This presenter had communicated his point, and then finished. Job done.

 Sometimes excellent speakers seize defeat from the jaws of victory by going on too long. They get off to a great start with the audience firmly alongside. Over time though, the audience drift away as the topic becomes sluggish with information unnecessary or even irrelevant to the purpose.

Only if you are being paid to speak for a specific time period, is quantity ever a valid measurement. It’s all about quality, and these two characteristics, quantity and quality, have an inverse relationship. The more one goes up, the more the other goes down.

 As you plan your next presentation, challenge yourself to reduce quantity by 20% and make that into an ongoing discipline. Look for things that can be taken out so your key message comes through with clarity and strength.

The way to surprise and please the audience is not only with the brilliance of your presentation. You can also delight them with it’s brevity.

 Finish early, leave an impact. Less is most definitely more.

Puncturing Perfectionism

by Peter Watts

Take a look at the following quote from Nandan Nilekani, head of the software company Infosys. He’s speaking in a 2008 interview for New Yorker magazine about the author Thomas Friedman:

“What I learned from Tom is speed……. I realised, when you have a story to tell you can’t dither over it for years and years – you’re going to be obsolete. That’s why I refer to him as an intellectual entrepreneur: the entrepreneur succeeds because they get an idea and then they move faster than the rest, they bring the product to market.”

When we have something to say, it is born of “Now”. We might have just come up with the solution to a business problem, or a winning sales pitch, or have something important to say on a community matter. Nilekani is pointing out that these ideas are best served fresh.

Delay and they go past their sell-by or get sold by someone else.

So why do many of us often hesitate when given the chance to speak in public?

The reason is often perfectionism. The capable speaker allows themselves to slip into being the panicky perfectionist. We procrastinate, we second-guess ourselves, we despair about every getting everything right, and before we know it, the moment to speak has been lost.

Each time this happens, a divot of hesitation lands in our psyche. Over time these divots grow from molehill to mountain. As each subsequent chance to speak arises, we face a growing divot-mound of past hesitations. Falter again and yet another muddy clod will fly through the air to join the others.

Woody Allen is reputed to have said:

“80% of success is in just showing up.”

This is nowhere truer than of public speaking. Becoming an effective public speaker is a journey 10% learning and 90% practical experience.

Perfectionism halts that journey before it’s even begun.

Next time you have something to say, try to get on up and say it!  It might not initially feel natural or comfortable, but know that next time it will be easier, and every time after that become easier still. Each time you find your voice you smack one of those divots back out onto the fairway where it belongs.

While preparation is good, over-prepping to the point of panic is not.

Sometimes we need to take on the challenge and just do it!

For more ideas on how to control presentation nerves, try the following Presenters’s Blog posts:

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