I recently delivered a TED Talk and afterward I asked myself “What did I learn from the experience?” It was a reflective question and it reminded me that even as a presenter, it’s easy to be so focused on delivering our content that we forget that no matter what side of the podium you are on, there is always something to learn.
I’ve done numerous workshops, training programs, and speeches throughout my career, and what I learned from doing the TED Talk is that regardless of what type of “presentation” you are giving, there are 3 things that need to happen in order for it to be a success.
1) Deliberate practice
3) Connecting with your audience
Deliberately practicing is the one element that most people typically rush, abandon too early or simply just don’t do. Because TED Talks are short, it may seem easier to prepare for them, when in fact it takes just as much preparation, if not more as compared to a longer presentation. The longer you speak, the more opportunities you have to manage your audience and engage with them. When you only have 6 minutes in a lecture style presentation, believe me every word, gesture, pause and eye contact counts. The only way that you can make all of that come together is through practice. Some people in a quest for authenticity say they prefer to “wing it” because it seems more natural, however practicing doesn’t affect your authenticity. A little while ago I watched Justin Timberlake on an episode of Oprah’s Master Class and he said that a frequent comment he receives is that he makes it look so easy and natural. His response… “to make it look easy is the hardest part.” He went on to say how hard he works at it, and when it looks natural, it’s one of the best compliments he can receive.
So how do you achieve authenticity? When you keep your focus on being you. When you are asked to present, it’s natural to see opportunities such as a possible promotion, getting more followers or increasing sales, but the moment you begin to focus on that, you have already failed. Your audience will feel that underlying sentiment to “get something from them” and they will react to it. Most often this results in a feeling of mistrust between presenter and audience and when this occurs, you have lost them. It is also easy to see when someone is apathetic about a presentation and their audience feeds off of that sentiment. If the presenter is indifferent, why should they be invested? You have lost your chance to be impactful. Instead focus on the reason for your presentation, why you have been chosen, who you are and what you have to offer. That is your authentic self and when that is conveyed to the audience, the likes, sales and gains will come naturally.
It is also easy to confuse being authentic with connecting with your audience, but this step is actually about the audience, not you. Your job as a presenter is to connect with them. Take an example of a neurosurgeon giving a talk to the entire staff at a hospital. They’re naturally comfortable speaking in very technical terms, however unless the audience is all doctors, you will lose them very quickly if the presenter stays in their own comfort zone. Your job as the presenter is to know your audience and prepare your presentation for them. You want to ensure you have built in aspects to engage different types of learners, and adapt quickly if their body language tells you that they are becoming disinterested.
Making sure you dedicate enough time to practicing, consistently bringing yourself back to the true purpose and preparing your presentation to fit your audience ensures you can connect, and stay connected with them, resulting in a success for everyone on both sides of the podium.
If you have a few minutes, take a look at my TED Talk “Everyone has a story to tell, what’s yours?”. In my talk I took the audience through a journey of capturing life’s most memorable moments. In my case, the generosity of friendship on the day I broke my neck. It is a story that is near and dear to me, I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed delivering it.