“Be passionate about your topic.”
Those were the words of wisdom I got from Jim Sterne, the author of a dozen books on digital marketing and analytics.
It was 2005 and I had finished speaking at a conference in Madison, WI. I did a decent job and felt like I delivered a pretty solid presentation. In retrospect, it was probably about a 6 on a 10 scale – not bad, but also not great.
Following me was Sterne, who had excellent slides, told great stories and kept the audience highly engaged in his topic. He was simply impressive as a speaker.
His performance made me realize how far I had to travel to become a really good or great speaker. I had started to average about a dozen presentations per year, but was still trying to find my speaker mojo and hone my style and approach.
When Jim came off stage I asked him what his secret was. “You just have to be passionate about your topic.” His advice was simple and brilliant.
His point was that if you are passionate about the subject you are speaking on, the audience can see it and feel it. You ooze enthusiasm for your subject, bringing your slides to life with your voice, body language and the stories you tell.
So how do you convey a high level of passion to your audience? Following are my suggestions to maximum confidence and ooze with passion:
Preparation: Minimize any last minute issues, such as struggling to find the room you are speaking in, realizing there is no presentation remote or lavalier microphone or finding out there is no room to move around on the stage. To ooze passion on stage, you need to be relaxed, confident and focused. If your thinking about the fact that your slides look faded on the screen or there is a delay with your presentation remote, those and other “surprises” will detract from ability to command the stage and audience.
Topic: It all starts with your topic. Never submit a proposal or agree to speak on a topic that you don’t have expertise about and stories to share. If you are an expert on the topic, even if your slides are not great you can ad lib, tell stories and wow the audience. If, however, you are relying on someone else’s slides, or the topic is either uninteresting or you lack deep knowledge – then you will not be able to deliver that deep passion required to inform and entertain the audience. They too will see it in your eyes and body language, as well as your pacing and the tone of your voice.
If, as happens on occasion, you inherit a presentation or have to substitute for a co-worker, then you must find a way either revise the presentation or use one of your own. (See post on inheriting someone else’s presentation)
Practice/Rehearsal: Build your confidence by practicing your presentation multiple times – whether in your head on the plane to the event, in your hotel room in front of a mirror or by actually presenting on stage. That additional confidence then enables you to be more relaxed, increase your comfort with your slides and enables you to ad lib more or just put additional energy into your delivery.
Rehearsing or multiple times delivering a presentation uncovers weak points in your slides that you can then remove, revise or learn to improvise around.
Have great openings: If you can grab the audience from the moment you walk on stage, you get them on your side and listening to every word you utter. Use whatever tricks you are comfortable with that gives you confidence from the start and makes audience members put down their smartphones. You want them to know from the start that you are a speaker they need to pay attention to.
Have a few “go to” stories: If possible, every presentation you deliver should have a couple of “go to” stories that you can rely on. These are your versions of the Rolling Stones performing “Satisfaction” or Bruce Springsteen delivering “Born to Run.” They are your tried and true stories that are both crowd pleasers, but you are able to strut your stuff with great energy, confidence, “color” and passion.
Slides that don’t suck: Your slides are probably the least important element of conveying passion, but crappy slides, such as those with lots of or unreadable text, poor quality images or poor layout can detract. If the audience is mumbling to themselves about the poor quality of your slides, you will struggle to get their full attention. Make sure your slides are simple and image-focused so that the audience is focused on you and your words and insight, rather than struggling to read the content on your slides.
Body language: Don’t stand behind the podium. Ever.* Don’t stand behind a podium, instead roam around the stage and use physical movement and body language to convey your passion about the topic or put an explanation point on specific aspects of your presentation. (*The only exception is when the only microphone available is one affixed to the podium.)
Bring the energy: Even if you are shy, find your inner rock star and yell, laugh, sing, vary your cadence and volume, run around the stage or into the audience or do whatever you can to get the audience’s attention. Bring energy to the stage and the audience will reciprocate by ignoring their smartphones and give you their full attention.
Engage the audience: Show your passion for a topic by getting the audience involved so that you are in essence transferring your passion to them. Ask the audience questions, go into the crowd or just show your empathy for the audience though your slides and stories. When the audience feels that you understand their pains and challenges they will more likely to jump on board the train and adventure you are taking them on.
Use whatever techniques work for you to build your confidence and convey passion when you speak. If you don’t bring the passion to the stage, don’t expect your audience to go “wow.”