Posted On December 21, 2015

diverse group of audience listening and smiling

“If you can’t talk to people and get across your ideas, you’re giving up your potential. You’ve got to be able to communicate in life.”

Those words from billionaire investor Warren Buffet may sound condescending coming from one of the world’s most accomplished businessmen—until you realise that a young Buffet was deathly afraid of public speaking. So terrified in fact that he’d pick and choose university courses so that he wouldn’t have to stand and deliver in front of a class. He even quit a public speaking course before it had even begun.

That all changed when Buffet enrolled in a second skill-building course, which he completed, and the rest as they say is history.

The ability to speak to an audience didn’t come easily to many other people we might think had “natural talent.” Aristotle had a stutter. Winston Churchill overcame a lisp impediment. Abraham Lincoln, like Warren Buffet, suffered from severe stage fright. Speech anxiety (known as glossophobia) and speech impediments affect today’s leaders too, such as George W. Bush and Gordon Brown, as well as actors and celebrities including Nicole Kidman, Ita Buttrose and Rowan Atkinson.

But back to the Oracle of Omaha’s quote that started all this: glossophobia is one thing but even professionals with years of experience speaking to the media, colleagues, investors and fans have been unable to get their ideas across—when they forget the first rule of presenting.

Rule #1: Plan to prepare or prepare to fail

Easily one of the most famous modern-day presentation fails involved a blockbuster Hollywood director, a curved-screen television and a broken teleprompter.

In 2014 director of Armageddon and Transformers Michael Bay guest starred at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. He was invited onstage by Samsung at great expense to talk about the manufacturer’s new curved-screen technology and its impact on the future of film making. Bay began strongly enough, addressing the throng of reporters and TV cameras with confidence, until his teleprompter malfunctioned.

Bay lost his place and, as captured in excruciating detail on YouTube, nervously fished for words, fidgeted and paused awkwardly. Samsung’s American VP valiantly tried to help by asking him questions but the star of the show was utterly unable to continue.

When he might have taken a moment to catch his breath, gather his thoughts and roll purposely through his material, Bay instead walked off stage in front of a live international audience, in a huff and in a state of abject embarrassment.

And those YouTube clips went viral.

MCI Solutions’ Presentation Skills courses would have helped

Thousands of Australians have learned the skills needed to become good, even great presenters from MCI Solutions’ courses like Presentation Skills, Communications – Making Connections and PowerPoint 2013 Advanced. One of the first rules they learn is know your material and rehearse so that you understand your presentation by heart—maybe not every word, but all of the story line and the essential content or “guts” of your presentation.

To make this point and as any fan of Apple knows, CEO Steve Jobs’ legendary new-product presentations were no accident. He was known to obsess over them for literally months beforehand!

An interesting sidebar to this is even when fate conspired against him, Jobs knew the show must go on—as it did at the 2010 launch of iPhone 4. On an occasion similar to the one Michael Bay found himself in, Jobs was unable to locate a Wi-Fi connection to demo the new phone’s capabilities. The network failed because 1,000 reporters, bloggers and developers at the venue all wanted to be online at the same time.

Rather than losing his place or his patience, Jobs stuck to his story line and simply asked his audience members to log off, halting his presentation until enough people did while joking “I’ve got time.” After a few minutes of light-hearted banter, Jobs was able to return to his presentation without missing a beat.

In other words, follow rule #1 and you’re halfway there.

Then there’s all the other important skills and rules to learn, such as:

  • Structure your content
  • Speak clearly
  • Be authentic
  • Be mindful of your body language
  • Stick to time
  • Use visual aids such as PowerPoint or Prezi effectively
  • Harness your nervous energy
  • Learn techniques that really engage an audience
  • Seek to improve with every presentation.

And here I’ll add one more on behalf of Michael Bay and Steve Jobs: Don’t trust technology. If a teleprompter or projector fails, microphone or internet connection dies or lights go out, you need to be able to carry on. Repeating rule #1: know your material.

For more information about training that will build, enhance or refresh this critical leadership ability, take a look through our communication, writing and presentation courses. For tailor-made courses, call us on 1300 768 550 and ask for a learning advisor.

I’m sure Warren Buffet (and Michael Bay) would say that’s good advice.

Help build your presentation skills with these extra resources from MCI Solutions

Workshop: Presentation Skills

Workshop: Presentation Skills: Advanced

Article: 9 essential tips for making a memorable presentation

Article: 7 tips overcome the fear of presenting

Article: How to create infographics in PowerPoint