Four Talk Styles to Avoid When Crafting a Presentation or a Pitch

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Crafting a great talk is hard work for everyone. When people assume talking just comes to me naturally and I have a ‚gift’, I say ‚thank you’ and state the truth: it’s all hard work and preparation. Just like you would not wake up one day and decide: ‚how about I run a marathon today’ without ever running 2 miles, you simply do not expect to give the talk of your life without having it prepared first. 

When I start working on a pitch, a keynote or a lecture I always have to balance the urge to share everything I know and the capacity of the audience’s perception. It is tough: the ego cries ‚tell them more, enchant them, be funny‚ and the super-ego calms things down with ‚be precise, be concise, be wise‚. There are countless ways to build a great talk or a great pitch. But every time I analyse the greatest of all, I see a pattern. And I conclude: All great talks are the same; and every bad talk is bad in its own way. Today instead of sharing ways to DO things I want to give away some essential safety tips. Trust me, there are ugly talk styles out there we better avoid. For the sake of speaker’s reputation and the audience’s well-being.

Share facts not opinions

Opinions are like asses – we’ve all got one. What’s worse they often blur our judgement. When giving a keynote or business pitch try to avoid opinions and support your point with fact and figures. Remember that you get more credibility and make this world a better place if you trust in science. When pitching to investors it’s most important to focus on facts, too. Especially in two areas: risk and revenue. Business people do not care about your opinions. They care about facts. It’s equally important to base your keynotes on knowledge, science, facts and figures and not opinions, stereotypes and beliefs. When in doubt always follow the best guidelines there are––the TED speakers guidelines. Write the idea you want to share down in one or two sentences. Then ask yourself three questions: Is my idea new? Are you telling people something you’re pretty sure they have not heard before? Is it interesting?

Also remember to think about how your ideas might apply to a room full of varied kinds of people. Who might be interested in it and what they can take from them. Take is the key as I will explain next.

And please make sure your ideas are factual and realistic. If you are presenting new research, make sure your idea is backed by data and peer- reviewed. If you are presenting a call to action, make sure it can be executed by members of your audience. Don’t just give them inspirational bullshit. Be responsible.

Give, do not take

Some time ago I organised a conference. A famed presenter and business sales consultant was invited to give a talk. I was excited to hear his presentation on how to make the most of 15 minutes we’ve got when we sell ideas to others. Instead I just got a repeated call to action: call me to get a consult and a lot of ego-driven narcissistic ‚I’m so good at it’ people pay me a lot. And it wasn’t just me. When I asked the audience members what they took away from it, they all remembered the nagging ‚call me’ and ‚give me your bosses business card’. He just got it backwards. He planned to take, not give. He planned on taking the time, the attention… the interest. This greedy approach to speaking does not even serve the speaker’s interest. Needless to say, he never got any booking from anyone in the audience.

Reputation is everything and it’s much better to build a reputation as a generous person – sharing something actual with your audience. When you give, people give back. It’s called reciprocity and has been research by likes of Professor Cialdini. If you want to be more influential, the first question is not to ask what can I take, but what I can give. The key principle is to remember that the speaker’s job is to give to the audience, not to take from them. Even in a business context where you are genuinely making a sales pitch or a investors pitch, your goal should be to give. Generosity evokes a response.

Do not bore me to death

Any organisation is fascinating to those who work for it –– and abysmally boring to almost everyone else. Any project is fascination to those who manage it –– and deeply boring who do not understand the ‚why is it relevant to me’. Any talk framed around of how amazing you guys are, how well-structured you are and how your recruitment processes have won recognition of the top authorities. The fabulously photogenic qualities of your team, the success your products are enjoying, the narcissistic dick measuring competition is going to leave your audience snoozing at the starting line.

Everything changes though once you focus on the story, the nature of the work you are doing, the power of ideas that infuse it and that can be implemented. The same goes for the sales pitch. Don’t just introduce your team and their titles. Instead of CEOs, CFOs tell us about the real life relations and ideas that those people implement making business grow.

And one more thing – always tell the people something they do not know. Stories need to be remarkable. Data, facts and figure have to amaze me. For the sake of a better tomorrow, if you have nothing new to share, shut the F*#k up and do some research. Come back later and impress us with something we did not know. Stop with the abysmally boring opening lines like ‚as we all know’, ‚we all can agree’. We all blab too much. Let’s make an effort and stay mute until we have something relevant to share with the audience.

Do not try to ‚inspire’

I hesitate to include this, but I’m convinced I should have to. Do not get me wrong. It is ok to inspire. One of the most powerful things you can do when giving a talk or pitching is to inspire others. But there’s a fine line between just inspiring the audience and leaving them with the boost and actually telling them how to put words in action. I have to say that people that only ‚inspire’ treat their audience a bit like a vibrator. They say they ‚share’ and ‚inspire’ but in realities they just jerk off. I believe in inspiration’s power but it’s the power that has to be handled with great care. The trouble with ‚inspirational’ talks is that they tend to deceive. The trouble with ‚motivational’ talks is that they give the entire genre a bad name. Inspiration has to be earned. And it is much better to educate (in an engaging way) that to just inspire. After all it’s so much easy to say ‚believe in yourself’ but it leave audience with not much to act upon. It’s easy to just inspire telling people to ‚believe in your dream’. You have to educate them how to make the dream come true. I know – stories are inspiring. Personal stories especially. But there is a dark side of storytelling. If you just tell people how you reached the top and leave them no actionable knowledge to get there, too – you are just and asshole. Not a true educator

Do not take my words for it. Practice it. Try out new ways to make your words mean something and remember that words have the power. You can educate, inspire, spread the knowledge and be part of the better dialogue. Or you can just end up giving the same narcissistic monologue that is all about ‚me, myself, and I’. We live in a ego-driven culture. We live in a my-selfie world. One thing that can save us is the science and knowledge. Incorporate it in you next talk. Make this world a better place. Peace!