This review first ran in the Feb. 1 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.
Steal the Show: How to Guarantee a Standing Ovation For All The Performances in Your Life
By Michael Port
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Here are 11 surefire ways to lose your audience and blow your next presentation.
With a grimace and in a monotone, tell us how happy you are to be here.
Lead off with a well-worn joke or tell us, in exacting detail, about the hilarious and adorable thing that happened this morning with your kids, spouse or the family dog.
Skip the cheap laughs and instead start by quoting Webster’s. Put the definition up on the screen. Pull out all the stops by waving around an actual dictionary .
Confess that you’re a lousy public speaker and apologize for being forced to talk about a topic that’s beyond boring.
Tell us you’re dead tired because you spent last night slapping together this presentation.
Confuse PowerPoint slides with cue cards. Turn your back on us to read your slides bullet by bullet, word for word.
Apologize in advance for showing us charts and graphs that we can’t read and won’t understand.
Lose your cool when your slides skip ahead, your mic cuts out, the video doesn’t play or the projector dies. Rip into tech support and the intern who put together your presentation.
Instead of focusing on one big idea, tell us everything so we remember nothing and leave your talk having no clue what you want from us.
Blow through your allotted time to speak because you’re the most important person on the agenda and in the room.
Be genuinely surprised when your PowerPoint slides end. Close with “I guess that’s it, thanks for coming out and have yourself a great day.”
Along with losing your audience, your sub-par presentation skills can get you permanently cast in a supporting rather than starring role in your organization.
Great presenters avoid these pitfalls by mastering their material. They treat their talk like a performance. They don’t wing it and hope for the best. Instead, they log serious hours in rehearsal.
How many hours? Professional speaker and consultant Michael Port once linvested 400 hours over five months preparing for a single keynote.
“When you prepare for a pitch, meeting, speech or negotiation, the goal is to know your material so well that you are free to be in the moment,” says Port, author of Steal the Show. “It’s hard to allow yourself to improvise if you don’t know your material right down to the core. If you aren’t well-rehearsed, you’ve stacked the odds against giving the performance you want to give.”
How you prepare is as important as how much time you spend practicing. Port recommends a seven-step rehearsal process that draws on his experience as a professional actor.
- Start with a table read to hear how your script sounds and to find the rhythm and feel of your talk.
- Map your content. Mark up the words you’ll emphasize. Know when to pause, speed up and slow down your presentation.
- Block your talk so you know how, when and where to move around the stage or room. You don’t want to wander, pace back and forth or stay stuck behind the lectern.
- Improvise and rework the parts of your presentation that fall flat. Look for memorable ways to interact with your audience.
- Hold an invited rehearsal with a colleague who can offer constructive feedback.
- Hold an open rehearsal to preview your talk with a larger group who are in your target audience.
- And finally, do a dress and tech rehearsal. Wear the clothes and shoes you’re presenting in and build a good rapport with the audiovisual crew.
“If you think you’re going to rise to the occasion, don’t bet on it,” says Port. “If you think you’re going to somehow be inspired to come up with the right material during the speech without hours of preparation, think again.”
Practice won’t make you perfect but it will make you a far better presenter who avoids all-too-common pitfalls. Port helps you think like a performer and shows what it takes to own the room and steal the show. So quit procrastinating and start rehearsing.