What makes a great presenter? Tina Fey, in my last article, said, “Confidence“. I agree with her, but want to go deeper this time, to address some factors that are as equally important as confidence is.
To begin, one important aspect, for me, is reflection.
That’s reflection, before the presentation, as well as after the presentation. During the presentation, I’m no longer reflecting, but present in the moment, making the best possible use of my preparation. In other words, I’m doing the best I can in that given moment.
First of all, however, the five quotes I’m reflecting on come from Ethos3 I chose them because they were obviously worth the exercise of reflection. The Ethos3 Team called the five quotes, “Our Favorite Presentation Quotes“. This assures me a great deal of thought went into selecting these quotes, and not others.
So, let me say that my response to each of the quotes will be from my own experience as a public speaker. This means that I will primarily be concerned with an audience that comes from an English as Foreign Language (EFL) context. The first language of the audience is Spanish, and my Spanish is advanced. I have made professional presentations in Spanish, which means I share the audience’s first language, regardless of whether or not I’m speaking in Spanish.
I elaborate on my bilingual ability, because it provides some advantages as a speaker that a monolingual speaker would not have. For example, I don’t need a translator to interact with a member of the audience. I can create a much more friendly atmosphere through using Spanish in a chat before or after the presentation. And of course, I can overcome a lack of understanding (in English) by quickly using Spanish, rather than being reduced to pantomime or a translator. These are significant advantages for me as a speaker.
So, now we are ready to begin:
1. “There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” – Dale Carnegie
– This one is true for me. I over-prepare for presentations, to the point that all I have to do is look at a slide, and I know what I want to say about the slide, without memorising a script. That’s the practice. During the presentation, I adapt to many factors, for example, “Did my presentation begin on time, or am I running behind schedule and need to make up time?” In that case, I will discard some slides, reduce the amount of information, and take questions only at the end of the presentation (if there is any time left). Finally, after a presentation, when I critique myself, I am never satisfied. There is always something that I wish I had said, or something I said (or did) that I wish I hadn’t.
So, as you can see, I fully agree with Dale Carnegie. The man is a genius to say so much, in so few words… 🙂
2. “Mere words are cheap and plenty enough, but ideas that rouse and set multitudes thinking come as gold from the mines.” – A. Owen
– Well, Mr. (?) Owen seems to be saying, “Don’t waste your opportunity to make an impact by just talking, just talking, only to be talking.” I agree with that. The audience has come to attend your presentation when they could have done a multitude of other things with their time, and often, with their money.
In my case, I feel an obligation, a moral one, to offer the members of the audience a central idea, that runs throughout the presentation, well transitioned, and properly signposted. We all get there (the conclusion) together.
This is what I call “the team line”, a concept which comes from debating. In a debate, where an argument is being made by multiple members of the team, there needs to be harmony and consistency between the parts of debate, regardless of the speaking role assigned (first, second or last speaker).
Each speaker must ensure they are able to connect with the previous speaker and extend the debate further in their speech. When done properly, both cohesion and coherence are maintained. The same is truein public speaking: First focus on coherency (making sense), and always maintain cohesion by relating each main topic being discussed to the previous as well as the upcoming topics.
In sum, if you have “mined your words with care”, the ideas that will motivate and inspire your audience will come to multiple forms of expression in your presentation. This is true for me, and again, I find myself in agreement with Mr. (?) Owen.
3. “Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all. “ – Sir Winston Churchill
Churchhill was a brilliant man. The history books tell us this. His great speeches are memorable. His “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat” speech, delivered May 13, 1940, was one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century. He inspired a nation with those words, to resist, to fight, to focus on only one ultimate aim: Victory.
Now close your eyes (metaphorically) and imagine Churchill saying these words: I have nothing to offer but “sanguine fluid, perspiration, and weeping“…
Somehow, we see the power, the simplicity, and the clarity of the “short words” he used. No one could have been confused about what lay ahead, unsure about what had to be done.
In my case, I remember a presentation I made at Universidad Catolica del Maule (Talca), to a large group of interdisciplinary, undergraduate English Pedagogy students. On that day my message was a simple one: Love what you do, do what you love. It was inspired by Steve Jobs Commencement Address to the graduating class of 2005 at Stanford.
I adapted his speech that day, to serve my purposes. I trult believe that educators, especially teachers of English, do not last long, or very quickly become cynical. To get around that possibility, I wanted to offer the examples of my life.
Now, I’m no Steve Jobs, not in any way. Yet, I love being an English teacher. Every day, I am able to do what I love, and that has sustained me during both the good times and the difficult times I have faced over the past twelve years.
It’s an up and down profession we English teachers have in Chile: low pay, low prestige, low levels of respect, those are some of the downs. The ups: high job satisfaction, high levels of affection for us from our students, high future impact on the lives of our students.
So, as you can see, it’s 50-50. If you are only looking for good times, this profession will disappoint you.
But if you truly love being a teacher, and would be a teacher even if you could have another profession, and you enjoy the challenges and the unpredictability and the promise of every single day of your teaching career, then you will not only survive, but thrive. I know I have, and that was my message, a very simple: “Love what you do, and Do what you Love.”
In sum, I am in full agreement with Winston Churchill.
4. “It takes one hour of preparation for each minute of presentation time.” – Wayne Burgraff
This one is the easiest one, evidently. Preparation, not only for the speech, but for the eventualities, the “What if’s” require a tremendous amount of time. I’ve never measured it, but i’m usually up very late, night after night, as I fine tune my presentation, and envision the possibilities that might suddenly confront me.
I’m not a control freak, I simply prepare for everything, and then it doesn’t matter what happens, because I can deal with any eventuality. That’s the intense way I prepare, and it has served me well. My only problem is the time before the presentation, when I’m a bundle of nerves, but you would never know it looking at me.
To sum this point up, again, I am in full agreement with the principle of preparation being a time-consuming affair. It takes time to prepare yourself well, and I’m no exception.
5. “There are certain things in which mediocrity is not to be endured, such as poetry, music, painting, public speaking.” – Jean de la Bruyere
– This one is tough, because it compares some things which at first glance should not be compared. The commonality I find is the idea of “public performance”. As long as you do any of these things for your own personal private enjoyment, then I am inclined to say “Who cares whether I’m great, mediocre, or whether I am truly horrible? This all changes when you bring in the public. The expectations are that you have an understanding that people want to be entertained, to be informed, to enjoy some aesthetic pleasure.
It is the ·performer’s” responsibility to provide these things. There must be an awareness of an obligation to give as good an account of oneself as possible, to try earnestly to please the public, to meet the expectations, hope, trust, faith of the public.
This is often the case, counterintuitively, when a performer is nervous, or unsure of themselves, visibly. When the public can see this, and it is genuine, they go out of their way to provide the necessary support, visual, verbal, nonverbal, to help the performer. Yes, they, the public are on your side, they want you to do well, they need you to do well.
When you do well, they do well. It is a symbiotic relationship, two entities, performer and public, whose emotional state is interdependent, connected. Each one needs the other in order to be successful, in a pure sense. One can not be “whole” without the other. You “complete” each other, performer and public, you make each other, whole.
When you have this level of awareness about your responsibilities and obligations, the last thing you want to do is disappoint the audience. Just going through the motions, halfheartedly, without enthusiasm, with no fire, no desire, this is unacceptable. For me, this is the “mediocrity” that is meant, not caring about how you affect others, not understanding what has been sacrificed, what has been given up, left for another day, in order to attend your “performance”.
I have a very present memory, of a moment when I disappointed an audience. To make this a short story, I must tell you that I had not yet learned when to stop preparing. I admit that before this incident I used to prepare all the way up to and including the very night before a presentation.
On this particular occasion, I was scheduled to make a presentation at the annual IATEFL Chile (International Association of Teachers of English – Chile) conference. I was doing a presentation on Blogging as a Language Learning tool, and it occurred to me that I had not included any material related to students being safe on the internet.
Well, I spent the whole night looking for information: text, videos, experiences, sample safety plans, behaviour rules currently being used by various schools, etc. I was thorough, I was comprehensive. By daybreak, I was satisfied with what I had prepared to include in my presentation.
I turned off the computer, and went to lay down for a few hours, since my presentation was going to be at 11:00 A.M. No problem, so I could get 3 or 4 hours of rest.
When I woke up, it was 12:00 noon. Horrified, feeing miserable, and full of regret, I got dressed and went to the conference to make a personal apology.
I attribute this incident to moving me from being just a good public speaker, to an outstanding public speaker. Once you have fully experienced what it means to disappoint an audience, in the worst possible way, (oversleeping) no-show, then you have an ever present awareness of the minute details that have to be accomplished at certain time intervals. There is truly a time for everything, in my case.
Let me finish the story here. What I learned from this experience was that whatever I have not done before the last night before the presentation: forget about it. It’s too late now, it’s time to focus on something else, namely, your body.
Yes, your physical body is important. I always dedicate the last night before a presentation to one and only one thing, almost religiously: I get a good night’s sleep.
I wake up in the morning, feeling refreshed, energized, ready to do my best. Yet it took a very negative experience for me to learn the time limits of proper preparation that I had to impose upon myself. Yes, again, the preparation of the presenter’s physical body is just as important as everything else.
In conclusion, mediocrity is simply not to be endured, and regardless of what the reason is that you disappoint your audience, it is to be avoided, because you can not “make up” a poor performance. It remains a part of your memory, of your consciousness, and it is distasteful.
This last point, I leave you with: Do not disappoint the audience, because you are connected – you need each other – one can not be complete without the other…