The amateur presenter

Not “amateur” as in the unprepared professional.

Amateur as in the passionate individual, untrained but with something to say.

If you’re called on to give a talk or presentation, the biggest trap to avoid is the most common: Decide that you need to be just like a professional presenter, but not quite as good. Being a 7 out of 10 at professional presenting is a mistake. Better to stay home and send a memo.

Don’t set yourself up for a ‘fail.’ Instead, here’s a chance to actually share your light and your vision.

No, the opportunity is to refuse to become a slightly prepared wannabe professional presenter. Just like it doesn’t pay to slightly practice the violin or sort of get ready to play in the NHL.

Sure, you might land a few well-timed punchlines or have a clever slide design. And sure, your violin might be in tune or your slap shot might work… But it probably won’t.

The alternative is to eagerly become an amateur presenter. Here are some thoughts to get you started:

Do you have something to say? If you don’t, stay home and send a memo. But if there’s a story you want to tell, a change you want to make, an impact you want to have, be really clear about what it might be. Simply getting through your presentation relatively unscathed probably isn’t a worthy goal.

Don’t apologize. Don’t apologize for being nervous, for caring, for not having 200 practice runs under your belt. The audience is offering you a tiny slice of time and attention. You cared enough to show up, here we go.

Find just one person. This is repeated often enough to be hackneyed, but it’s still ignored. I mean it. You have a microphone. There’s a room with some people in it. One of them, just one, is the sort of person you can tell your story to. So tell it to them. Ignore every other person. Don’t project your voice to fill the room, don’t pace around like Zig Ziglar or choreograph your slides, or tell jokes. You don’t do that in real life. Well, this is real life. Find one person and tell them your story. If other folks want to listen in, that’s fine.

Don’t memorize and don’t read. Very talented actors, recently returned from their strike, can read and make it sound like they’re not reading. A few podcasters I know can do this as well. Almost no one else can. Instead, amateurs understand that they’ve been telling stories their whole lives, and given the chance, they can tell a story again. Without reading it.

This isn’t a performance. Professionals perform. It’s their job. This is you sharing the change you’d like to make with one person sitting a few feet away from you.

Think about the most important interactions you’ve had. The ones with partners, doctors, strangers and friends. None of them were professional speeches. Not one. Instead, a human interacted with you and made a change happen. Not because they had a script and a director, but because they cared.

The challenge isn’t in becoming a sort of pretty good professional presenter. The challenge is becoming you.

Of course, it’s scary. But the response to the fear isn’t to soothe ourselves with memorization and insulation. It’s to simply show up.

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