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How to Give a Killer Presentation
How to Give a Killer Presentation 29
June 2013 HBR.ORG reprinT r 1306K Managing Yourself How to Give a Killer Presentation l essons from TeD by Chris AndersonFor ar Ticle reprin Ts call 8009880886 or 6177837500, or visi T hbr.org Managing Yourself How to Give a Killer p resentation l essons from TeD by Chris Anderson little more than a year ago, TED Talk. He was painfully shy. His English on a trip to Nairobi, Kenya, was halting. When he tried to describe a some colleagues and I met his invention, the sentences tumbled out a 12yearold Masai boy named incoherently. And frankly, it was hard to Richard Turere, who told us a imagine a preteenager standing on a stage fascinating story. His family in front of 1,400 people accustomed to raises livestock on the edge hearing from polished speakers such as of a vast national park, and Bill Gates, Sir Ken Robinson, and Jill Bolte one of the biggest challenges Taylor. is protecting the animals from But Richard’s story was so compel lions—especially at night. Richard ling that we invited him to speak. In the had noticed that placing lamps in a months before the 2013 conference, we field didn’t deter lion attacks, but when worked with him to frame his story—to he walked the field with a torch, the lions find the right place to begin, and to de stayed away. From a young age, he’d been velop a succinct and logical arc of events. interested in electronics, teaching himself On the back of his invention Richard had by, for example, taking apart his parents’ won a scholarship to one of Kenya’s best radio. He used that experience to devise a schools, and there he had the chance to system of lights that would turn on and off practice the talk several times in front of a in sequence—using solar panels, a car bat live audience. It was critical that he build tery, and a motorcycle indicator box—and his confidence to the point where his thereby create a sense of movement that personality could shine through. When he he hoped would scare off the lions. He in finally gave his talk at TED, in Long Beach, stalled the lights, and the lions stopped at you could tell he was nervous, but that tacking. Soon villages elsewhere in Kenya only made him more engaging—people began installing Richard’s “lion lights.” were hanging on his every word. The con The story was inspiring and worthy of fidence was there, and every time Richard the broader audience that our TED confer smiled, the audience melted. When he ence could offer, but on the surface, Rich finished, the response was instantaneous: ard seemed an unlikely candidate to give a a sustained standing ovation. CopyRigHt © 2013 Ha RvaRd Business sCHool puBlis Hing Co RpoRation. all RigHts ReseRved. June 2013 Harvard Business Review 2 illust Ration: se Rge Bl oCHeXPerien Ce Since the first TED conference, 30 to start and where to end. To find the for a solution. There’s an “aha” moment, years ago, speakers have run the gamut right place to start, consider what people and the audience’s perspective shifts in from political figures, musicians, and in the audience already know about your a meaningful way. TV personalities who are completely subject—and how much they care about it. If a talk fails, it’s almost always because at ease before a crowd to lesserknown If you assume they have more knowledge the speaker didn’t frame it correctly, mis academics, scientists, and writers—some or interest than they do, or if you start us judged the audience’s level of interest, or of whom feel deeply uncomfortable giv ing jargon or get too technical, you’ll lose neglected to tell a story. Even if the topic is ing presentations. Over the years, we’ve them. The most engaging speakers do a important, random pontification without sought to develop a process for help superb job of very quickly introducing the narrative is always deeply unsatisfying. ing inexperienced presenters to frame, topic, explaining why they care so deeply There’s no progression, and you don’t feel practice, and deliver talks that people about it, and convincing the audience that you’re learning. enjoy watching. It typically begins six members that they should, too. I was at an energy conference recently to nine months before the event, and The biggest problem I see in first drafts where two people—a city mayor and a involves cycles of devising (and revising) of presentations is that they try to cover former governor—gave backtoback a script, repeated rehearsals, and plenty of talks. The mayor’s talk was essentially finetuning. We’re continually tweaking a list of impressive projects his city had a successful talk our approach—because the art of public undertaken. It came off as boasting, like is a little miracle— speaking is evolving in real time—but a report card or an advertisement for his judging by public response, our basic regi reelection. It quickly got boring. When the people see the world men works well: Since we began putting governor spoke, she didn’t list achieve differently afterward. TED Talks online, in 2006, they’ve been ments; instead, she shared an idea. Yes, viewed more than one billion times. she recounted anecdotes from her time in On the basis of this experience, I’m too much ground. You can’t summarize an office, but the idea was central—and the convinced that giving a good talk is highly entire career in a single talk. If you try to stories explanatory or illustrative (and also coachable. In a matter of hours, a speaker’s cram in everything you know, you won’t funny). It was so much more interesting. content and delivery can be transformed have time to include key details, and your The mayor’s underlying point seemed to from muddled to mesmerizing. And while talk will disappear into abstract language be how great he was, while the governor’s my team’s experience has focused on that may make sense if your listeners are message was “Here’s a compelling idea TED’s 18minutesorshorter format, the familiar with the subject matter but will that would benefit us all.” lessons we’ve learned are surely useful be completely opaque if they’re new to As a general rule, people are not very to other presenters—whether it’s a CEO it. You need specific examples to flesh interested in talks about organizations or doing an IPO road show, a brand manager out your ideas. So limit the scope of your institutions (unless they’re members of unveiling a new product, or a startup talk to that which can be explained, and them). Ideas and stories fascinate us; orga pitching to VCs. brought to life with examples, in the avail nizations bore us—they’re much harder to able time. Much of the early feedback we relate to. (Businesspeople especially take f rame Your story give aims to correct the impulse to sweep note: Don’t boast about your company; There’s no way you can give a good talk too broadly. Instead, go deeper. Give more rather, tell us about the problem you’re unless you have something worth talking detail. Don’t tell us about your entire solving.) about. Conceptualizing and framing what field of study—tell us about your unique you want to say is the most vital part of contribution. Plan Your Delivery preparation. Of course, it can be just as damaging to Once you’ve got the framing down, it’s We all know that humans are wired to overexplain or painstakingly draw out the time to focus on your delivery. There are listen to stories, and metaphors abound implications of a talk. And there the rem three main ways to deliver a talk. You for the narrative structures that work best edy is different: Remember that the people can read it directly off a script or a tele to engage people. When I think about in the audience are intelligent. Let them prompter. You can develop a set of bullet compelling presentations, I think about figure some things out for themselves. Let points that map out what you’re going to taking an audience on a journey. A suc them draw their own conclusions. say in each section rather than scripting cessful talk is a little miracle—people see Many of the best talks have a narrative the whole thing word for word. Or you can the world differently afterward. structure that loosely follows a detective memorize your talk, which entails rehears If you frame the talk as a journey, the story. The speaker starts out by presenting ing it to the point where you internalize biggest decisions are figuring out where a problem and then describes the search every word—verbatim. 3 Harvard Business Review June 2013For ar Ticle reprin Ts call 8009880886 or 6177837500, or visi T hbr.org Find the perfect Mix of data and n arrative by Nancy Duarte Most presentations lie somewhere on the continuum between a report and a story. a report is datarich, exhaustive, and informa tive—but not very engaging. stories help a speaker connect with an audience, but listeners often want facts and information, too. great presenters layer story and information like a cake, and under r eport story stand that different types of talks require differing ingredients. l iteral, dramatic, informational, experiential, Factual, evocative, exhaustive persuasive r esearch f inancial Product VC Pitch Keynote For 30 minutes with f indings Presentation l aunch address a vC, prepare a crisp, if your goal is to commu Financial audiences instead of covering Formal talks at big wellstructured story nicate information from a love data, and they’ll only specs and events are high arc that conveys your written report, send the want the details. features, focus on the stakes, highimpact idea compellingly in full document to the audi satisfy their analytical value your product opportunities to 10 minutes or less; ence in advance, and limit appetite with facts, brings to the world. take your listeners then let Qa drive the the presentation to key but add a thread of tell stories that show on a transformative rest of the meeting. takeaways. don’t do a long narrative to appeal how real people will journey. use a clear anticipate questions slide show that repeats to their emotional use it and why it will story framework and and rehearse clear all your findings. anyone side. then present change their lives. aim to engage them and concise answers. who’s really interested can the key takeaways emotionally. read the report; everyone visually, to help them else will appreciate find meaning in the brevity. numbers. n ancy Duarte is the author of HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations, Slide:ology, and Resonate. she is the Ceo of duarte, inc., which designs presentations and teaches presentation development. My advice: Don’t read it, and don’t use the eight years it took her to recover. After But if you don’t have time to learn a teleprompter. It’s usually just too dis crafting her story and undertaking many a speech thoroughly and get past that tancing—people will know you’re reading. hours of solo practice, she rehearsed her awkward valley, don’t try. Go with bullet And as soon as they sense it, the way they talk dozens of times in front of an audi points on note cards. As long as you know receive your talk will shift. Suddenly your ence to be sure she had it down. what you want to say for each one, you’ll intimate connection evaporates, and ev Obviously, not every presentation is be fine. Focus on remembering the transi erything feels a lot more formal. We gener worth that kind of investment of time. tions from one bullet point to the next. ally outlaw reading approaches of any kind But if you do decide to memorize your Also pay attention to your tone. Some at TED, though we made an exception a talk, be aware that there’s a predictable speakers may want to come across as few years ago for a man who insisted on arc to the learning curve. Most people authoritative or wise or powerful or pas using a monitor. We set up a screen at the go through what I call the “valley of sionate, but it’s usually much better to just back of the auditorium, in the hope that awkwardness,” where they haven’t quite sound conversational. Don’t force it. Don’t the audience wouldn’t notice it. At first memorized the talk. If they give the talk orate. Just be you. he spoke naturally. But soon he stiffened while stuck in that valley, the audience If a successful talk is a journey, make up, and you could see this horrible sink will sense it. Their words will sound sure you don’t start to annoy your travel ing feeling pass through the audience as recited, or there will be painful moments companions along the way. Some speak people realized, “Oh, no, he’s reading to where they stare into the middle distance, ers project too much ego. They sound us” The words were great, but the talk got or cast their eyes upward, as they struggle condescending or full of themselves, and poor ratings. to remember their lines. This creates the audience shuts down. Don’t let that Many of our best and most popular distance between the speaker and the happen. TED Talks have been memorized word for audience. word. If you’re giving an important talk Getting past this point is simple, Develop stage Presence and you have the time to do this, it’s the fortunately. It’s just a matter of rehears For inexperienced speakers, the physi best way to go. But don’t underestimate ing enough times that the flow of words cal act of being onstage can be the most the work involved. One of our most mem becomes second nature. Then you can difficult part of giving a presentation—but orable speakers was Jill Bolte Taylor, a focus on delivering the talk with meaning people tend to overestimate its impor brain researcher who had suffered a stroke. and authenticity. Don’t worry—you’ll get tance. Getting the words, story, and sub She talked about what she learned during there. stance right is a much bigger determinant June 2013 Harvard Business Review 4eXPerien Ce of success or failure than how you stand or best advice is simply to breathe deeply Many of the best TED speakers don’t whether you’re visibly nervous. And when before you go onstage. It works. use slides at all, and many talks don’t it comes to stage presence, a little coach In general, people worry too much require them. If you have photographs ing can go a long way. about nervousness. Nerves are not a or illustrations that make the topic come The biggest mistake we see in early disaster. The audience expects you to be alive, then yes, show them. If not, consider rehearsals is that people move their bodies nervous. It’s a natural body response that doing without, at least for some parts of too much. They sway from side to side, or can actually improve your performance: the presentation. And if you’re going to shift their weight from one leg to the other. It gives you energy to perform and keeps use slides, it’s worth exploring alterna People do this naturally when they’re your mind sharp. Just keep breathing, and tives to PowerPoint. For instance, TED nervous, but it’s distracting and makes you’ll be fine. has invested in the company Prezi, which the speaker seem weak. Simply getting Acknowledging nervousness can also makes presentation software that offers a a person to keep his or her lower body create engagement. Showing your vulner camera’seye view of a twodimensional motionless can dramatically improve ability, whether through nerves or tone of landscape. Instead of a flat sequence of stage presence. There are some people voice, is one of the most powerful ways images, you can move around the land who are able to walk around a stage during to win over an audience, provided it is scape and zoom in to it if need be. Used a presentation, and that’s fine if it comes authentic. Susan Cain, who wrote a book properly, such techniques can dramati naturally. But the vast majority are better about introverts and spoke at our 2012 cally boost the visual punch of a talk and off standing still and relying on hand ges conference, was terrified about giving her enhance its meaning. tures for emphasis. talk. You could feel her fragility onstage, Artists, architects, photographers, and Perhaps the most important physical and it created this dynamic where the designers have the best opportunity to use act onstage is making eye contact. Find audience was rooting for her—everybody visuals. Slides can help frame and pace a v fi e or six friendlylooking people in dif wanted to hug her afterward. The fact that talk and help speakers avoid getting lost in ferent parts of the audience and look them we knew she was fighting to keep herself jargon or overly intellectual language. (Art in the eye as you speak. Think of them as up there made it beautiful, and it was the can be hard to talk about—better to experi friends you haven’t seen in a year, whom most popular talk that year. ence it visually.) I’ve seen great presenta you’re bringing up to date on your work. tions in which the artist or designer put That eye contact is incredibly powerful, slides on an automatic timer so that the n erves are not a and it will do more than anything else to image changed every 15 seconds. I’ve also disaster. the audience help your talk land. Even if you don’t have seen presenters give a talk accompanied time to prepare fully and have to read by video, speaking along to it. That can expects you to be from a script, looking up and making eye help sustain momentum. The industrial nervous. contact will make a huge difference. designer Ross Lovegrove’s highly visual Another big hurdle for inexperienced TED Talk, for instance, used this technique speakers is nervousness—both in advance Plan the Multimedia to bring the audience along on a remark of the talk and while they’re onstage. With so much technology at our disposal, able creative journey. People deal with this in different ways. it may feel almost mandatory to use, at a Another approach creative types might Many speakers stay out in the audience minimum, presentation slides. By now consider is to build silence into their talks, until the moment they go on; this can most people have heard the advice about and just let the work speak for itself. The work well, because keeping your mind en PowerPoint: Keep it simple; don’t use a kinetic sculptor Reuben Margolin used gaged in the earlier speakers can distract slide deck as a substitute for notes (by, say, that approach to powerful effect. The idea you and limit nervousness. Amy Cuddy, listing the bullet points you’ll discuss— is not to think “I’m giving a talk.” Instead, a Harvard Business School professor who those are best put on note cards); and think “I want to give this audience a pow studies how certain body poses can affect don’t repeat out loud words that are on the erful experience of my work.” The single power, utilized one of the more unusual slide. Not only is reciting slides a variation worst thing artists and architects can do preparation techniques I’ve seen. She rec of the teleprompter problem—“Oh, no, is to retreat into abstract or conceptual ommends that people spend time before she’s reading to us, too”—but information language. a talk striding around, standing tall, and is interesting only once, and hearing and Video has obvious uses for many speak extending their bodies; these poses make seeing the same words feels repetitive. ers. In a TED Talk about the intelligence of you feel more powerful. It’s what she did That advice may seem universal by now, crows, for instance, the scientist showed before going onstage, and she delivered but go into any company and you’ll see a clip of a crow bending a hook to fish a a phenomenal talk. But I think the single presenters violating it every day. piece of food out of a tube—essentially 5 Harvard Business Review June 2013For ar Ticle reprin Ts call 8009880886 or 6177837500, or visi T hbr.org 10 Ways to Ruin a presentation as hard as it may be to give a great talk, it’s really easy to blow it. Here are some common creating a tool. It illustrated his point far Talk myself. So he invited me to give one, mistakes that ted advises its better than anything he could have said. and I accepted. speakers to avoid. Used well, video can be very effec It was more stressful than I’d expected. tive, but there are common mistakes that Even though I spend time helping others take a really long time should be avoided. A clip needs to be frame their stories, framing my own in to explain what your short—if it’s more than 60 seconds, you a way that felt compelling was difficult. talk is about. 1 risk losing people. Don’t use videos—par I decided to memorize my presentation, ticularly corporate ones—that sound which was about how web video powers speak slowly and selfpromotional or like infomercials; global innovation, and that was really dramatically. Why talk people are conditioned to tune those hard: Even though I was putting in a lot of when you can orate out. Anything with a soundtrack can be hours, and getting sound advice from my 2 dangerously offputting. And whatever colleagues, I definitely hit a point where you do, don’t show a clip of yourself being I didn’t quite have it down and began Make sure you subtly interviewed on, say, CNN. I’ve seen speak to doubt I ever would. I really thought I let everyone know how ers do this, and it’s a really bad idea—no might bomb. I was nervous right up until important you are. 3 one wants to go along with you on your the moment I took the stage. But it ended ego trip. The people in your audience are up going fine. It’s definitely not one of the Refer to your book already listening to you live; why would alltime great TED Talks, but it got a posi repeatedly. even better, they want to simultaneously watch your tive reaction—and I survived the stress of quote yourself from it. 4 talkinghead clip on a screen going through it. Ultimately I learned firsthand what our Putting it Together Cram your slides speakers have been discovering for three We start helping speakers prepare their decades: Presentations rise or fall on the with numerous text talks six months (or more) in advance so quality of the idea, the narrative, and the bullet points and 5 that they’ll have plenty of time to practice. passion of the speaker. It’s about sub multiple fonts. We want people’s talks to be in final form stance, not speaking style or multimedia at least a month before the event. The pyrotechnics. It’s fairly easy to “coach use lots of unexplained more practice they can do in the final out” the problems in a talk, but there’s technical jargon to weeks, the better off they’ll be. Ideally, no way to “coach in” the basic story—the make yourself sound they’ll practice the talk on their own and presenter has to have the raw material. 6 smart. in front of an audience. If you have something to say, you can The tricky part about rehearsing a pre build a great talk. But if the central theme sentation in front of other people is that speak at great length isn’t there, you’re better off not speaking. they will feel obligated to offer feedback Decline the invitation. Go back to work, about the history of and constructive criticism. Often the and wait until you have a compelling idea your organization feedback from different people will vary 7 that’s really worth sharing. and its glorious or directly conflict. This can be confus The single most important thing to achievements. ing or even paralyzing, which is why it’s remember is that there is no one good way important to be choosy about the people to do a talk. The most memorable talks of don’t bother rehearsing you use as a test audience, and whom fer something fresh, something no one has to check how long your you invite to offer feedback. In general, seen before. The worst ones are those that talk is running. 8 the more experience a person has as a feel formulaic. So do not on any account presenter, the better the criticism he or try to emulate every piece of advice I’ve she can offer. sound as if you’re offered here. Take the bulk of it on board, I learned many of these lessons myself sure. But make the talk your own. You reciting your talk in 2011. My colleague Bruno Giussani, who know what’s distinctive about you and from memory. 9 curates our TEDGlobal event, pointed your idea. Play to your strengths and give a out that although I’d worked at TED for talk that is truly authentic to you. n ever, ever make eye nine years, served as the emcee at our hbr r eprint R1306K contact with anyone conferences, and introduced many of the 10 in the audience. speakers, I’d never actually given a TED Chris anderson is the curator of ted . June 2013 Harvard Business Review 6
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