For some, presenting is a need. For others, it’s something they love doing and want to do more. But can you make a career out of it? You sure can, I did!
If you are like me, after your first talk, you will want more. Public Speaking is addictive. The applause, the connection with the audience, the fact that you are teaching others. All these elements could be reasons why you want to pursue a speaking career.
But having spoken once, or even a few times, doesn’t make you a speaker. It doesn’t mean you have a speaking career. For that to be the case, something more has to happen.
I’m not talking about money here. I’m talking about being a speaker who gets invited (back) often to conferences. A speaker who gets asked by a company to come in and inform or inspire their staff.
To get to that point, there are a few things you need to remember.
It takes time
Having a successful speaking career takes time. It doesn’t just happen. You need to put real work in it. There are very few speakers who go from a small event straight to the big keynotes or TED Talks. You’ll either have to be extremely talented, have an extremely unique topic or be extremely lucky. In all other cases, you have to at least take a few years to grow.
Question yourself and renew yourself all the time
In all the years I have been speaking, not a single talk I did was a repetition of another one. Yes, elements did come back and some talks were similar. But every single time, I renewed my presentations. To make it better. I questioned myself every single time.
This made my talks better, but it is bigger than that. Because I questioned myself, I grew. I changed not only presentations but styles, topics and much more. I was always trying to become a better version of myself every single time. Constant change will make you spiral up.
Focus on presence
Being a better speaker, to get asked back is more than presenting great content. You have to ‘be there’. You have to have a great presence. Your presence is what makes people listen to you.
If you want to grow, focus on presence. Play with the audience. Become comfortable on stage and use your body to send out a message. Become someone people want to see!
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In the past few weeks, I’ve been giving a lot of advice to speakers who were preparing their decks. Some of them were preparing for a conference. Others were preparing for workshops. And there were even those who were preparing for online courses.
It was a lot of fun to do, and there were some great decks sent in. Of course, there were also quite a few things I could suggest for improvement. There is one thing that kept coming back when analysing the different slide decks: the text.
A lot of speakers still put a lot of text on their slides. Because they want to share as much information as possible. This isn’t always the best approach though. Let me explain why. After that, I will explain how you can handle slides that do have text on them.
Why is having too much text on a slide a bad thing?
Before you go and change your behaviour… Of course, you want to know first, why is having too much text on a slide a bad thing? After all, you are trying to give your audience as much information as possible. Aren’t you helping them?
As well as the intent often is, it isn’t helping them. For a lot of reasons.
Have you ever been to a bar where they had TV’s hanging on the wall? You will have. And you will have experienced that it is hard to keep your eyes off the screen. Even though your conversation partner has something interesting to say. You can’t keep your eyes off it.
The same thing happens with the screen(s) that are behind a speaker. People can’t take their eyes off it. At least, not until their brains have digested what is on the slide.
So what happens to a person when they see a lot of text on a slide? They start reading what is on it. Because they need to digest it. That means their attention will stay on the slide until they’ve read it all.
When your audience reads, they don’t hear you
Now try this: have someone tell you something, while you are trying to read something for the first time. You will either fail to read or fail to listen. You can’t do both.
The same will happen with your audience, they will focus on one thing. And that one thing is going to be the text. Their eyes will be drawn to the screen and will read, and won’t listen to you.
Your audience starts writing
I’m assuming that what you put on your slide is valuable information. Information that will help your audience. Your audience will feel the same way. It must be important because the speaker has put it on there!
When people come to an event or when they are listening to a speech, they want to remember things. And to remember, they will write things down. This means that when you put text on a slide, chances are your audience will write down what’s on your screen.
And you’ve guessed it. When they are writing, it’s hard to listen to you!
Especially when you have quite a bit of information on your slide, it will be hard for people to keep track of what you are saying. Chances are they will still be writing when you click to the next slide. That will mean they won’t hear the first things you are saying on a new topic.
They are playing catch up
The result is that people are playing catch up all through your presentation. They want to hear everything you say. They want to write down your message and your tips. But let’s put it bluntly: you’re not letting them.
The more text you have on your slides, the more your audience is playing catch up with your words. And that’s not something you want happening!
How much text can I put on a slide?
The question now of course arises, is how to handle the issue of too much text on a slide. And how much text should be on a (Powerpoint) slide anyway? There are a few things that you can do.
Give them short bites
The simplest solution, of course, is not to put too much text on a slide. But the truth is that you sometimes do need text. Also, because you sometimes WANT people to write something down. Or to tweet something.
The best way to do that is to use short bites. Short sentences that don’t take too much time to read or write down.
How much? I use the rule of the ‘old tweet’. Meaning around 140 characters. That is enough to digest. It will also make that it will be easier for people to share your quotes, using your name in it as well.
Don’t use text, use images
I don’t have much text on my slides. I use a lot of images. Using images prevents them from reading. I use images to represent what I am talking about. They support my words. They help my audience visualise my words.
If you do need to share more text, give them time to read. Pause your speech. Tell them they can read the slide if they want. Just don’t talk through it if you don’t have to.
Share the slide!
It’s common use to share slides afterwards with audiences. Even though there is discussion about whether or not this is a smart thing to do. Especially when you are using a lot of images, it won’t make much sense to those who haven’t seen your presentation.
When you have a lot of text on your slides, it might be wise to share your slides. When you get to a slide with more text, tell your audience they will get that slide. Tell them they should write down some important words, but they don’t have to copy the entire slide.
Powerpoint math: the 1-6-6 rule? No.
Finally, there is the 1-6-6 rule. This rule is very simple. You should include no more than six words per line and no more than six bullet points per slide.
They invented this rule to prevent people from using too much text. Unfortunately, it does the exact opposite. It encourages people to add text, a slide with six bullets and six words each, is still a lot of text! So when you think this rule is the way to go. Go up, and read the post again!
The essence: think about their attention
When it comes to text on slides, there is no set number of words or characters you can or cannot use. The essence of it all, is to think about your audience. Understand them. And understand the attention curves. If you understand those, you can help your audience digest what they need to hear.
A great presentation has got as little text as possible. Bullets are ‘death by powerpoint’. So what most presenters do, is create slide decks with a lot of images. And they are right. After all, an image says more than a 1,000 words.
Images can tell a story on its own. But more important: images can support what a speaker is talking about. I would argue that images beat text on a slide deck every time.
When building the deck, you need to find the images that work best. There is a lot you need to think about, one of them being: where do I find the images?
Of course, there are a lot of stock photo websites, full of images you can use. But which ones are any good? And which have free stock photos? Because for most images on the web, you need to pay royalties. After all, the photographer needs to make a living as well!
There are many speakers out there that don’t have the budget to buy high-quality images from stock photo websites. They need to look for a cheaper alternative. Which is when often they turn to Google Images. Unfortunately, most images found through Google also have copyright restrictions. You can’t use most images.
Finding royalty free images for a presentation isn’t as simple as it sounds!
Four great resources to find images
Fortunately, there are some good websites that offer great stock images to use in your slide decks. You only need to know how to find them. Below I’ve listed a few that offer great material. I’ve used them often! These websites offer a library of free images, in the creative commons public domain. That means you can use the images for free and you are in the clear.
First up is Pexels. Pexels.com is a search engine for “CC0 images”. This stands for “creative commons zero”. Meaning they are free. You can browse through the images as you go. Or choose one of the categories they picked for you, such as “holiday” or “water”. The best thing is the search engine which is prominent on the site. Type in a term and find related images. Be careful: they also show sponsored photos, these you do have to pay for!
Like all others, Unsplash shows a search bar on the front page. This will help you find the right images for your presentation. And when you do start searching, you will find some amazing images. They are some high-quality images there. Unsplash also offers some
Like the others, Freeimages.com offers a huge number of images to use for your presentations. Freeimages is somewhat easier to work with because of the way they structured the site. It has collections (categories). It has a search bar, but it also offers insight into what others use with ‘popular photos’ and editor’s picks. On Freeimages you can also search for photos made with a specific camera. And you can even search through pre-fabricated lightboxes.
One of my personal favourites is Pixabay.com. Pixabay does more than offer a set of great photos. It also has illustrations, vector graphics and even some videos. This makes it a resource where you will find what you are looking for. Another benefit is that you can search by filtering on size, orientation and even colour.
The key to using these sites is knowing how to search. You need to understand what you are looking for and describe that well. Otherwise, you will find the stock photo that everyone uses. Don’t use the first picture you see, but browse around. Find comparable images and see which one fits best.
Finally a pro-tip. Look at the name and description of the images you like. Then do a search that mirrors that text, which will make that you find related images.
There are many more websites that offer free photos you can use in your slide decks. You only need to look for the right ones. The three mentioned above to me are the ones that I use most. They never fail in finding me the right image.
Of course, finding the image is one thing. The most important thing is to understand what to look for in a picture you use in a presentation. Don’t take any picture. Think about it. Use one that ads value to the deck.
There are speakers who draw great crowds. Not only during their session, but after as well. People come up to them, ask them questions, take pictures and often enough, become clients.
How do they do that? Of course, with a good presentation. But there is a way to get that attention as well. Here’s how…
Hey! How are you doing? Sometimes, when you’re preparing for a presentation, you will find that you have too much material. You just can’t put it all into your presentation and that sometimes… It sucks, it’s not nice… But it might be something that you can use for your own benefit. Let me tell you why.
Sometimes you want people to come up to you after your talk. You want them to get engaged with you during the breaks. Now, the extra material that you can’t put into your presentation, might actually be something that can help you trigger to get people to come up to you after your talk.
Imagine that at the end of your talk you are almost done and you explain to the audience that you may have a lot more stories about a certain topic. You go like “oh I wish I could tell this now but we don’t have the time for that. But you know what, if you really want to hear the story come up to me afterward and I’ll tell you the story.”
Chances are people will come up to you to hear that last bit, that last story that you couldn’t tell in your presentation. So don’t just rule out the extra information the extra stuff that you have prepared. Use it for your own benefit. Use it after your talk.
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