Medium 9781626560475

Be the Best Bad Presenter Ever

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Karen Hough doesn’t want you to be “perfect.” People fear public speaking because they worry about having to conform to all sorts of handed-down rules that tie them up in knots and put their audiences to sleep. It’s authenticity and passion that win people over, she says, not “polish.” But you can’t be authentic if you’re following guidelines that drain the life and personality out of your presentation.

Hough debunks over a dozen myths about presenting to make it more fun and natural for everyone. She explains how practicing in front of a mirror makes you worse, why you should never end with questions, and much more. She includes true stories of people who not only were able to become great presenters by being “bad” but actually came to enjoy it! Like them, by following Karen Hough’s wise and witty advice, you’ll be able to tear up the old rules and embrace and develop your own style. You’ll be freed to be a living, breathing, occasionally clumsy human being whose enthusiasm is powerful and infectious.

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ONE: THE BADDEST WAY TO PREPARE

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There’s just too much going on in presentations: information to remember, slides crammed with data, your pulse racing, and all those rotten rules to follow. Focus, people, focus! You need to peel away the excess stuff that gets in the way of efficient, authentic presenting.

Let’s put on our geek hats and consider why this matters. Neuroscience is uncovering more and more information about the importance of focus. David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz have done insanely cool research into how our brains connect to our leadership abilities and to our everyday human behavior. As we dump behaviors that stand in our way (i.e., break old rules) and replace them with new ways to focus our thoughts and energy, we are actually rewiring our brains. Being ourselves becomes easier and easier if we focus on it.

Over time, paying enough attention to any specific brain connection keeps the relevant circuitry open and dynamically alive. These circuits can then eventually become not just chemical links but stable, physical changes in the brain’s structure… the brain changes as a function of where an individual puts his or her attention. The power is in the focus.1

 

TWO YOU ARE THE PRESENTATION

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We all refer to presentations in the third person, as though they were objects: “Send the presentation to Marketing” or “Post the presentation to the intranet.”

This assumes that the presentation is the PowerPoint file, the technology, the content. But guess what? The real presentation is you. You are the one who can make all of those mere props — PowerPoint slides, flip charts, pictures — come to life and have meaning. A slide deck without a person isn’t a presentation. It’s a document. So, if Marketing really wants the presentation sent over to them, you should just mail yourself in a manila envelope.

Do you think actors wait until the set, costumes, and props are in place before they rehearse or decide how their characters feel? Heavens, no. The acting and directing ensemble figures out what they want to accomplish — and the accouterments of the show support those decisions. The key here for presenters is to achieve real impact and get away from useless props.

So here are some ideas to unlock the baddest you.

 

THREE OOPS!

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There’s a great concept in improvisation. It’s called “Oops to Eureka!” On the improv stage — heck, on any stage — things go wrong sometimes. Or they change, not in a worrisome way, but an unexpected way. “Oops” is the response when we realize something unexpected has happened. The key is to make those instances become “Eurekas” rather than disasters. This might require quite a change in mindset for many people. It’s hard not to minimize or walk away from our Oops moments. In improv, we’re not allowed to ignore the unexpected. We’re obligated to acknowledge it and keep it in the show. In reality, the unexpected is improv’s stock in trade. Even within our own troupes, we’re constantly trying to surprise each other with unexpected suggestions and scenes.

Scientists do the same thing: they never assume to know the outcome; they embrace “mistakes” or the unexpected as fully as they do the predictable. The questions become “What wonderful thing will happen now that the agenda has flown out the window?” “What discovery will be made?”

 

Now Get Out There!

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NOW GET OUT THERE!

The CFO of a multibillion-dollar healthcare company once addressed an internal group of young leaders. He talked about meetings and presentations to stockholders and how tough those could be. The best part of his speech, however, was how he embraced his badness. He talked about how his “bad presentations” were an asset to his career and company. You see, his delivery was not polished — it was down-to-earth, focused on the market, and extremely casual. He stood in stark contrast to the CEO, who was a consummate salesman, very energetic, and decidedly polished. The cool part was that they both realized that they made the perfect team. Stockholders need to hear about excitement and growth plans from a charismatic leader. But when it comes to the numbers and the tough questions, they want to hear it from someone who comes across as fair, honest, and approachable. For this guy, it was like a badge of honor — people trusted him more for his imperfection. He was being his bad self in the best way.

 

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