What Do Master Presenters Do Differently? 7 Essential Habits of Master Presenters

What do you notice that people who are truly “masters” on stage have in common? What are those small differences that over time put in motion large differences that separate them from the pack. As a student of presentation skills since 1992, I have some definite observations. It just gets clearer and clearer to me. Though they are simple, habits, over time they define our growth rate. Do you incorporate these habits?

#1 Think Differently:
Did you know that the first thing Craig Valentine did when he got off the plane from winning the World Championship of Public Speaking was to get a book on public speaking? That is the attitude of a master presenter. People who are the best and have a passion for their craft and their message are always looking to learn more. If every presenter had Craig’s attitude, rarely would any ever sit through a boring presentation ever again. When I jumped into the comedy world, I took every class I could. Many of the teachers I had became “life changing” mentors. I have invested $10,000 each year for the past three years in my own education. Since that has been so helpful, for next year I have already invested over $20,000. Will you invest more in your own self-development next year?

#2 Effort in their introduction:
A master presenter understands that “setting up” the listening is just as important as what is said. Too many presenters do not put any time or effort into their introduction. If anything, they give the introducer an ego filled bio that is usually about seven minutes too long. True professionals keep their introductions under three minutes. They have “you focused” questions in them. These are followed by your credibility, and then a single humbling piece of personal information. The introduction should answer: Why should people listen to you? What will they get out of giving you their time?

#3 They Focusing on Connect with the Audience First:
Master presenters are fully aware that they must “connect” with an audience before they can persuade them. The connection is crucial. This is why I spend a great deal of time researching my keynote audiences before hand. I don’t stop there either. I will also attend other sessions prior to mine, just to find that “one nugget” that will allow me to connect with them. In fact, this ties into the previous point, that part of your introduction’s purpose is to start the process of connecting. Do you strategically focus on connecting?

#4 Long Enough Pauses:
Pauses for the audience’s benefit, not there own comfort level. Too many people on stage only pause long enough for their own comfort. They do not hold the pause long enough for the audience to “think.” This is the whole point of the presentation. Master presenters know that if they are not letting them reflect on their perspective, they are in fact breaking the connection with the audience. All too often the presenter is the problem, not the audience. If you ask a simple yes or no question, a short pause is plenty. If your question requires deeper thought, let them! Do you pause long enough? If they are not reflecting, you are not connecting!

#5 Worry Bigger:
Much more concerned for the audience’s outcome, rather than what the audience will think of them. I recently interviewed Maria Austin, a Professional Trainer, for an audio learning program for new trainers. She is one of the best I know at this. She has what I call the “Maria Mindset.” Before she was a Trainer, she was in customer service. She brought her “serious service” attitude to her training. She looks at it exactly the same way. The only difference is her product is now education. She is so adamant about what the audience members take away. She fully understands that it is not about her. Do you?

#6 Get Lots of Laughs:
It has been said that you don’t have to use humor in presentations unless you want the audience to listen. Although you can have a powerful presentation without it, most master presenters usually have heavy doses of humor. Here is a crucial difference between good speakers and masters. Master presenters infuse the humor into the story. It is not a tangent from the message. Many less experienced presenters will tell a joke, or use something they found on the internet. They use it to break the ice. Wrong! Humor should always have some relevance to your main message. Otherwise, it is a detour and wastes valuable time! Keep in mind what Steve Allen said: “Humor arises between the incongruity between the character and the situation.” The essence of the “sitcom.” For speakers we need “sit-stories.” The purpose of the story should be anchoring a key point. If you are not getting laughs now, learn to!

#7 Craves Feedback:
When master presenters walk off the platform they are fully aware that a crucial part of their next presentation is just about to begin. It does not matter what we say, it only matters what is heard by the audience. Presenters who are passionate about their message are constantly evolving. New ideas are constantly “tested.” Things that are common in my keynotes now, were once new ideas that were experimented with at one time. For example, I never used to show a video clip of my very first time on stage. I also never used to show a photo of my closet full of video recordings. They are now essential, but may some day be replaced with something more powerful. When I spoke in Canada this past fall I had a video introduce me!

Are you on track to become a master presenter if you are not already? If you believe you already are, may I suggest you read over number one again? I get off track occasionally myself, but it only takes one humbling audience to remind us we all still have much to learn. Where will your current habits take you in five years?

Pillars of Success – Embrace The Present

As we progress through the journeys of our lives, careers and businesses, we often stop to reflect on where we are at a given point in time. Like mapping any trip, we have certain expectations of our progress along the way. Similarly, setting timelines for our goals make them more tangible and urgent. What happens, however, when we find ourselves at a place other than where we expected? A typical reaction is to explain, excuse or perhaps even criticize. The mere fact that we see ourselves as not being “as far along as we should be” passes negative judgment and sets the stage for the world of scarcity thinking. The situations where this kind of scarcity thinking can creep into our psyche are numerous. Here are some examples that may be familiar:

A person begins something that is new and uncertain and finds themselves in a group situation such as a class or educational program. Immediately, they start compare themselves to other and begin to think that “everyone else is so much more qualified or further along” and wonder how they will ever catch or keep up.
A corporate professional thinks their career is passing them by. They see themselves passed over time and time again for recognition, leadership opportunities or promotions. They wonder how it is that they are so stuck where they are and others are moving ahead of them
A new entrepreneur who is sure that they have done all the right things still hasn’t achieved what they thought they would by this stage of their business. Like the professional, they see their peers moving effortlessly toward greater success. They may try new and different things, grasping at this idea or that but become more frustrated or despondent that they are still stuck.
In each of these examples and in others like them, the constraints of scarcity thinking become apparent. What is focused on with laser intensity is “WHAT IS NOT”: what skills are deficient, what career progress or entrepreneurial success is not attained. The Present reinforces our sense of failure as seen through the lens of our own expectations or our assumptions about someone else’s journey.

Step back for a moment and imagine that whatever your circumstances, whatever your present situation, you are exactly where you are supposed to be. Where we are at any point in time is the cumulative effect of each of the decisions, actions, external events and our responses to them. Thus, while we may not be where we expected to be, we are where we are supposed to be. By embracing the present, we allow ourselves to discover the unique opportunities that are available to us right here and right now. Instead of beating ourselves up for not being somewhere else, we can identify the options that may have been overlooked otherwise. Perhaps instead of being “stuck”, we are where we are because there is knowledge or information that we need to gather before taking our next steps. Finally, consider the possibility that we are where we are because we need the chance to step back, catch our breath and enjoy things that may have been pushed to the side in the pursuit of our goals.

Our goals and objectives are like stops or progress points on a trip. We set a target for where we would like to be at a certain point on our journey. What would you do if you find yourself in Flagstaff at the end of your day’s travels instead of Albuquerque? Do you “fire” yourself? Do you cancel your trip or give up and go home? Do you keep driving relentlessly to make Albuquerque before you stop? Probably not. Instead, you likely consider the circumstances that brought you as far as you are, reassess your journey and plans and then go out to discover the surprises of a place that don’t know very well. The same approach works for our life and professional goals as well. It’s your journey, and each stop along the way is an important part of the map that will guide you where you want to go. Enjoy where you are. You are supposed to be here.

The Three WORST Pieces of Advice Given to Presenters (and How Best to Ignore Them)

Ever hear the one about picturing your audience naked to overcome your fear of presenting to them? How about the one about practicing in front of a mirror? Anyone who has ever tried either of those well-meaning tropes knows how futile they are. Deluding ourselves that we can calm fears by laughing at our audience, or that we can convince them of anything by faking authenticity, is worse than a waste of time. It prevents us from using our greatest power as presenters: our true selves. Try ignoring the “worst advice” and substituting powerful communication instead.

Worst Advice:

Memorize Your Presentation

Now this one sounds reasonable enough on the surface. After all, much of our fear about presenting is wrapped up in our fear of looking foolish in front of others. Some of that comes from our fear of drawing a blank when all eyes are on us. If we memorize our presentation, that won’t happen, right? Perhaps, but what will certainly happen is that we’ll be taken out of “the moment” as we put all of our energy and attention on recalling the least significant portion of our presentation: the literal words. Suddenly, we’re not focused on the immediate reaction we’re getting from the audience or on making sure we’re connecting with them. We’re focusing instead on making sure the words keep coming. That sets the bar too low: surviving the presentation until the end isn’t your goal. CONNECTING to your audience is.

Instead: Know Your Presentation

Focus on the essence of what you’re presenting: namely your key messages. This is what’s most important for your audience to understand. If the worst happens and all of your materials and notes disappeared, how would you summarize what you came to say? Put those bigger ideas up front and build your presentation around them. Your audience won’t likely remember all of the supporting details, but they should remember your key points. Worry less about repeating the exact words you intended and more about making sure you’re connecting. If you see heads nodding, react. If you see puzzled looks, don’t just plow through. Stop and make sure you’re not rushing ahead of your audience just to fill space. Slow yourself down and make sure you really see your audience and gauge their reactions. Remember, no one knows what you were supposed to say, so don’t let a pause or different phrasing than you’d planned throw you.

Use a Lot of Bullets

For some reason, lots of presenters think they can take a long, dry presentation and suddenly make it come alive if they can just add enough bullets to the screen. Ever sit through one of those presentations where the bullets don’t in any way indicate an abbreviated point? Heck, they may not even indicate a point! Here’s the thing: TEXT ON A SLIDE IS NOT A VISUAL AID. There is nothing about text that makes it more understandable, or illustrative, than the spoken word, by itself.

Instead: Put the Visual Back in Visual Aid

Are there actual visuals that would help illustrate your points? Can you bring in relevant charts, graphs, photos, illustrations to help your audience “see” your points? If you must use bullets, greatly reduce them and the words you use. Your audience didn’t come to read and they didn’t come to listen to YOU read to them. (Hint: if you use punctuation in your bulleted information, you’re using too many words.)

More is Better

Ever sit through a presentation that’s a product of many hands? More detail, more slides, with the presenter intoning something like… “..and here you can see again… “ or “this is just yet another example of… “ Yes, you want to prove your key points. Data does help you do that. However, information overload may quickly confuse your audience and actually mask your key points.

Instead: Pointed is Powerful

Limit your backup points and secondary data to your “best stuff.” Ask yourself whether any given slide is necessary, why, and what might instead be moved to handout material. Remember, this is ORAL presentation. That means it’s necessary for presenters to pay attention to higher messages, with just enough information to lend strong support. Remember, you are the presentation, so stay center stage.