Friday, August 11, 2017

3 Steps To Deliver An Epic Presentation And Impress Anyone

Now, I don't profess to be an expert in public-speaking. I don't have degrees or awards to show for. I don't get paid thousands of dollars by bankers to speak in conferences.

My credentials is rather humble. I teach, I train students to speak, and I enjoy the occasional stage limelight (I spoke at a TedX conference earlier this year, too shy to share the link just yet).

At the very least, I'm qualified enough to give you tips on how not to give a sucky, sleep-inducing presentation.

That's a start, right? Alright, let's go!


1. Speak To Be Understood, Not Speak To Speak

Now, most of us love the sound of our own voice. (I don't - I think mine is a wee too squeaky, lacking a rich baritone like Mr. Cumberbatch.)

It's good to be comfortable in our skin. No one wants to listen to someone who's afraid of his own shadow. Conviction - for better and for worse - signifies credibility. It's a natural human noise filter.

Most of us love the string of our own words (I do - I'm more of a writer than a speaker, hence I'm a humble blogger instead of a multi-millionaire talk show host).

But just like your voice, don't be too attached to your own words. It's a recipe for disaster.

A common mistake we make is talking based on our frame of knowledge and perspective, instead of the audience's. In one of my warm-up TedX practice sessions, I used real-life examples that I was familiar with and fond of. The subject was mind-reading, so naturally I talked a lot about poker.

My test audience stared at me blankly. They hadn't a faintest idea of what the hell I was going on about folding, double up, last position, etc (and probably neither do you, which is precisely my point). They were undergraduate students (as was the expected crowd of the real talk, I was told). Gambling isn't legal in Malaysia. Poker isn't big amongst Malaysians.

I changed my script. I instantly dropped all references about poker. It was not easy. I really liked the poker part. But it had to be done. It was my own silly mistake. I should've made inquiries on the demographics.

No one gets their script right the first time. I had, what, about 7 drafts in all? Which leads me nicely to my next point...

"I'm Kok, Raphael Kok." (don't laugh!)

2. Kill Your Darlings

It's one of Stephen King's favourite mantra to aspiring novelists.

Kill your darlings!

No, he doesn't mean your wife or boyfriend here. 'Darlings' refer to your work product. Your favourite lines. The paragraph you spent whole week working on. Your masterpiece. Your preciousssss...

Kill your darlings!

I once moderated a legal forum. There were 3 speakers. Each had 30 minutes speaking time. They all brought along Power Point slides. Pretty standard stuff.

The first speaker got ready. Her slides flashed on the large monitor. "Oh uh, not good," I inwardly groaned.

Her presentation had 40+ slides. In 30 minutes. That's about 1 slide per 45 seconds.

What more, it was a typical lawyerly presentation, where each slide had bucket loads of text (e.g. Section n of Act X). It would fit well in an optician's clinic.

When I gently told her to stop, she hadn't even made it half way through her slides.

Kill your darlings!!!   

Look, I know you've put in hours of effort into every precious slide, word, and stock photo you nicked off Google Image.

But your presentation isn't really about you, it's meant for your audience. Sorry to say, ain't nobody got time to listen to an academic thesis. You have to earn their attention, you're not entitled to it.

Better to say half the things on your mind and they catch every bit of it, than to blurt out all you have to say in a rush till they miss everything.

If you know your content is too heavy, cut down and focus on your key points.

Don't be too attached to your darlings. Kill them, if you must. Better than them killing off your presentation completely.

What your audience really feels about your presentation

3. Refine, Refine, Refine - Till The Very End

The perfect script is like the perfect recipe. Once you've got the right words written down, right tone stored in your muscle memory, you're all set to go.


There is no full-proof recipe to a successful presentations. Sure, it taste nice with jam. But what about honey instead? That part is slightly over-cooked. Why not slow-roast down a celcius or two but a little longer?

Practice is all about trial and error. Continuous improvement. Constant refinement.

Even if you feel you've got nailed it, don't stop! Try out new stuff. Make changes. You never know when the next big wave of inspiration will hit you. It won't come when you're comfortably tucked in bed, script sealed and locked in your drawer. It'll only come if you linger out on the beach, staring into the horizon.

Martin Luther King Jr... Everyone knows him. Everyone knows his speech - one of the greatest speeches in human history, delivered one sunny morning in Washington.

Or rather, everyone knows those four epic words: I have a dream...

But you know what? Those words weren't even in his final script.

Yes, Martin Luther King Jr wasn't planning to utter those immortal words that morning. Halfway through his speech, he felt he was losing the crowd. So he decided to ditch his script, and free-style to glory.

Yes, he practiced his speech many times days before. He had used those very words, in previous speeches before.

The point is not to deviate from what you practice. The point is not to make things up as you go along.

The point is to experiment multiple versions of your speech, imprint them in your mind, so that when the opportunity presents itself, you have the courage to spring out the right words at the right time.


Now, Step Up

Obviously, these 3 step aren't all that. If you've been paying attention, you will realise that any presentation - just like this one - is never set in stone, constantly evolving.

I don't claim to be an expert on presentation. I'm still trying to find my way.

And if you're still reading up to this point, neither are you.

So the best advice I can give you is the one I tell myself:

Speak to be understood.

Kill your darlings.

Refine, refine, refine - till the very end.

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