Master Presenting

Stop The Awkwardness—Present with Confidence

The Way of Becoming a Great Presenter in 2015

6005169270_cb6ff8605e_oI almost drowned one summer at a camp. As a kid I thought I had the chops to swim across the lake with the other kids. It was a rite of passage to get to the island in the middle. I took a deep breath and dove in.

The lifeguards had to take a boat out to get me fifteen minutes later. I wasn’t prepared and one of the directors said, “Little man, you have to start small to get across that lake. People practice all year to do that. It’s not a ‘jump in and figure it out thing’.” 

I mastered friendship bracelets since I never dipped my toe in that lake again that summer. 

Like my swimming experience, most people have a negative experience when it comes to presenting. Something went wrong. The audience groaned with boredom. The teacher wrote a big red D on your presentation concerning “The History of Butter Churning.” But you want to get back in the presentation game. Maybe your job depends on it and you want to move up in your field. Maybe it’s just something you want to tackle and get over. 

How can you start 2015 with micro-steps and successes to presenting? How can you start your training? What gets you across the scary presenting lake without drowning? 


The Line for Coffee. When it comes to presenting, our audience is usually composed of strangers and a few colleagues. Connecting with that audience seems impossible. Next time you are in line for something, strike up a conversation with the person behind you. It can be about any topic: weather, cost of gas, etc. If you want to increase the difficulty, point out a fun fact about where you are, “Did you know Starbucks was the first place to offer insurance to part time employees?” It might feel awkward at first (and second-tenth), but the small connection builds up our confidence for the big audience. 

Attend a Pecha Kucha Event Pecha Kucha style speaking events started when a Japanese architectural firm decided to cut down any presentation to 6 minutes and 20 seconds by limiting their talk to 20 slides that would move every 30 seconds. Now you can find these events hosted in your city’s pub. You can see presenters talk about a myriad of topics and see how you can cut the fluff out of any presentation. 

Download the StoryCorp Podcast. Listen to people tell heartfelt stories through interviews about the people they love. It exposes you to the wonder of humanity and how powerful it is to share our stories with others. 

Read to Kids. You want a forgiving audience? Little kids will love you if you read them a story. You get to practice story-telling, using silly voices and being dramatic. And if you bomb, that’s ok—give them ice cream. But this micro-audience will give you great practice.


Be The Tour Guide. If you work in a company with more than 4 employees, ask your supervisor if you can be the designated “tour guide” of your company. For new employees, you’re the person who shows them the ropes, who explains how everything works from email to where to stash your lunch. This helps you talk about about a topic you know full well, and start with an audience that has immediate buy in. 

Attend a Moth Storytelling Event. The Moth is dedicated to telling great stories and like Pecha Kucha they offer great insight into crafting a great presentation. Each event has a theme such as “Fatherhood” or “Large Regrets.” Take notes and explore how to connect with the heart of your audience. 

Join Toastmasters. Search for the local Toastmasters in your area and the organization can help you start presenting, offering feedback and resources. The organization encourages new members and they can hone your speaking skills and introduce you to other beginners as well. 


Present in Your Field. Summer time is usually conference time. Put in that request to talk about a topic you know well. Ask your colleagues what topic would they recommend you speak on. Check with your supervisor on what she’d recommend you hit the stage with. Download the form and get to typing. If you don’t have a conference coming up, ask your supervisor when there will be an opportunity to share the presentation at an upcoming retreat or meeting. 

Read up. Figure out how to use presentation software well. Don’t simply depend on the templates that Powerpoint and Keynote have to offer. Books such as Nancy Duarte’s Resonate or Garr Reyonld’s Presentation Zen will teach you the simpler and better ways to connect with your audience. If you simply apply Guy Kawasaki’s blog post “The 10/20/30 Rules of Powerpoint” to your presentation, you will be leagues ahead of anyone else. 

TED talks. See the masters at work. Watch the top 10 TED talks and see how they strike a balance of story, data, connection and action. If you haven’t seen Brené Brown’s talk on vulnerability, you are missing out on the sweet spot of presenting. 


Be the Anonymous Presenter. If you liked either the Moth or Pecha Kucha event, sign up to do one of them. Find a topic near and dear to your heart and tackle it. This is the graduating course to be a courageous presenter. And if it goes south, don’t worry. You’re in front of strangers! Plus, these events usually have adult beverages. 

Committee Time. If you feel your presenting chops have improved, make sure and offer your resources in your workplace. See if you can get in front of your colleagues more and more, exploring new topics to share and creating a body of work of presenting. 

Check out the Library. Your local library is always looking for community speakers. Pitch your speech even if it is “How to Become a Better Public Speaker.” Get your slides cleaned up, your outfit pressed and warm up those vocal cords.

These small steps, these tiny increments of improvement are what get you across the lake to the island of applause and appreciation. 

About Ryan McRae

Ryan McRae has presented all over the world from South Africa to Afghanistan. He has spoken and designed presentations for Fortune 100 companies and wants this tech-focused culture to be able to speak well and with confidence.

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