Give a Great Talk when it Counts – Long Version

(Last updated on: August 14, 2018)

give a great talk

Sometimes 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. And it may be easy or excruciatingly difficult.

Checklist to Give a Great Talk

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 speaking, it may help you break through writer’s block. And if you’re inexperienced, it will give you a detailed prescription to prepare a talk. Moreover, you’ll need it less and less the next time, and the next.

A Top Executive with Stage Fright

I had a professional colleague who was the head of a large and successful business unit, with tens of thousands of employees. I’ll call him Carl.

Carl needed to give a talk to the corporate senior management at a small gathering once a year. There were fewer than fifty people in the room. And these were people whom Carl knew well. But every year when this meeting came around, he was terrified.

Carl’s Secret to Give a Great Talk

I was able to see how my friend helped himself with this problem. Just like anyone might do, Carl would prepare and rehearse the talk in advance, before the meeting. But then he did something unusual.

On the day before the talk, Carl would arrange to have the meeting room, all to 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.

Carl gave his talk to the empty room, as best he could manage. The media folks on his staff videotaped him giving the presention. Then Carl sat down and watched the video with two of his staff and a public relations person.

Together, they would talk about minor changes he could make. None of these were big items. They had to do with pacing the talk and in a few places, to make something clearer. They also discussed how Carl could put his audience at ease. When Carl focused on taking care of his audience, it took Carl’s mind off himself. And this in turn put Carl at ease.

The group would do a half-dozen run-throughs until Carl said, OK, I can do this, thanks everyone. And the next day, Carl gave a polished professional talk. He seemed totally relaxed in front of his audience. You would never know how totally at sea he had been just 24 hours before.

You Too Can Give a Great Talk!

I learned two wonderful lessons from watching Carl deal with his problem of stage fright. And those were:

  • If the head of a large successful business can be terrified by facing an audience, it can happen to anyone.
  • And the right preparation can let anyone give a great talk!

I believe 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.

How I Learned to Give a Great Talk

I’d like to acknowledge two bosses (and mentors) who helped me learn to give a great 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.”.

I soon found that if I wanted to give a great talk, I couldn’t use a set formula. Because the best talk depends on the audience as well as what you’re trying to accomplish.

It got so complicated that I started writing down what I learned about how to give a great talk. And I came up with a magic prescription that I will share with you now. Use this link for the Presentation Checklist.

I wish you great success!

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