37No one wakes up in the morning and says, “I want to see a PowerPoint presentation!”

Think of the worst speeches you’ve ever been subjected to. When you finish rolling your eyes, make a commitment to yourself — and audiences as yet unseen — that you’ll never do the same thing to them. Do this instead.

You Have a Lot of Nerve

Congratulations if you’re not nervous on stage, but most of us are. Part of our problem is that we don’t look at what it does to us — and what that says to everyone else.

Do you have a death grip on the podium? Is there a fake smile plastered on your face? Do you never look up from your notes — or look over the heads of everyone in the audience? Are you rooted to one spot?

 None of us does this in ordinary life (well, maybe the fake smile at painful family events). We do them onstage because we’re afraid: of forgetting our talk or looking stupid or not being liked.

Give yourself two gifts. First: video your presentation in advance. Notice how fear shows up in your body. Second: don’t beat yourself up over what you see. We all hate ourselves onscreen. Even people who get paid millions see things they don’t like. Instead, ask yourself what you do that makes it harder for people to agree with you. Then change that. (And drop the beat-up — it’s just an excuse to stay stuck.)

It’s Not about You

 One of the biggest mistakes I made when starting to do training (Finance and Accounting for Non-Financial Managers, anyone?) was to concentrate on my own performance. Am I moving around enough? Are my hands distracting? Is there enough variety in my voice?

Here’s the best lesson I learned. I was only there because the audience needed something. My job was to make sure they got it. As soon as my focus shifted to them, I felt free! I started asking them questions before speaking, to learn what they wanted. I talked with them during breaks — and afterward — to hear if they got it. Taking the spotlight off me made things better for everyone.


It’s true: sometimes you’ll have to talk about unexciting things. Learn to care about them — so you can show that your audience should, too. Then you’ll automatically pick more action words — rather than sound as though an institution wrote your remarks.

Too few speakers are passionate about their information. This makes all of us check out and check email instead. We’ll listen to the most boring stuff if the person presenting it shows she’s really into it — and why we should be, too.   

Make It a Conversation

Treat the audience as though they’re your friends – rather than your prisoners for the duration. You have some useful ideas to share. A few good stories to tell. A viewpoint worth considering. Once you stop “performing,” you can start connecting. Then people will be glad to do what you want.