Give a Great Talk when it Counts – Long Version

(Last updated on: April 6, 2018)

Presentation stylized man 200pxSometimes you need to give a great talk, a presentation that’s really important to you.  This may happen to you rarely or all the time, it may be easy or excruciatingly difficult.  I have a step-by-step checklist that may be a help, regardless of the kind of talk you need to give.  If you’re an old hand at this, it may help you break through writer’s block; if you’re inexperienced, it will give you a detailed prescription that you will need less and less the next time, and the next.

I once had a professional colleague who was the head of a large and successful business, with tens of thousands of employees, who needed to give a talk to the corporate senior management at a small gathering once a year.  It didn’t matter that there were fewer than fifty people in the room, people my friend knew well.  Every year this happened, and every year he was terrified.

I got to see how my friend helped himself with this problem.  He would prepare and rehearse the talk in advance, before the meeting.  Then, the day before the talk, he would get access to the meeting room, all by himself, for a few hours in the early morning.  The room was set up exactly as it would be at the meeting, minus the people.  The media folks on his staff would videotape his talk and he would sit down and watch it with two of his staff and a PR person.  They would talk about minor things he could do, nothing significant, to pace the talk, to make it more clear, to put the audience at ease (and by extension, to put my friend at ease as well).  They might do a half-dozen run-throughs until my friend said, OK, I can do this, thanks everyone.  And the next day, you would never know how totally at sea he had been just 24 hours before.

So I would say, if the head of a successful business can be practically incapacitated by stage fright, it can happen to anyone.  But the good news is that you don’t have to be born a great speaker — if you can speak, you can speak effectively, and you can teach yourself to do it.

I’d like to acknowledge two bosses (and mentors) who gave me great help in learning to give a talk.  Both were at Hughes Aircraft Company:  Don (Donald C.) Forster, who tirelessly rehearsed me until I was a good as I could be, and Bob (Robert E.) Sears, who built his great guidance around his favorite phrase “Simplify.  Simplify.  Simplify.”.

So what is this magic prescription?  I’ve referenced it in the Bonus section of the website but you’ll also find a direct link here: Presentation Checklist 2013.  I wish you great success!

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