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Be Yourself, Not SpeakerMan


By Bob Goodyear

My advice to be yourself when you give a presentation is not new. It is, however, not easy to follow. I learned this the hard way during my very first business presentation.

For the first ten years of my career, I was a software engineer. I was never asked to give a presentation of any kind and I was pretty happy with that. That changed when I was working for a vendor who sold supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. I was asked to give a presentation and, honestly, I was really scared about the idea. The reason I chose computer science as my major in college was to work with machines instead of people! The idea of presenting information to real people was nerve-wracking.

The occasion for my first presentation was to join our salespeople in a meeting with a group of customers in Tennessee. I had always been told that software engineers should never meet with customers because we couldn’t speak their language. The more I prepared for the meeting, the more I believed that. I found that I didn’t really feel comfortable with my content.

Before we left for the meeting, the salesperson wanted to do a “dry run” with me to hear what I was going to say. When I asked for his advice, he said, “Just be yourself. You’ll be great!” We went into a conference room and ran through my presentation. He thought it all sounded pretty good. As a matter of fact, he said he couldn’t see why he wouldn’t take me to visit other customers around the country.

We flew to Tennessee on the day of the presentation. We entered the conference room and there were 16 people from a couple of different companies there. The salesperson made his introductions and promptly turned the meeting over to me. Panic immediately took over. Instead of following the advice to “be yourself,” I turned into a person that I now call “SpeakerMan.” I spoke like I thought I should, rather than just being me. I started using all kinds of phrases and words that I never used in real life. In the end, it was a terrible presentation and I was totally embarrassed. The salesperson wondered what happened and remarked, “You became a totally different person. You completely changed from you.” I decided then, that I never wanted to do another presentation.

As you can tell, times have changed for me. Since that event, I’ve spoken in more than 15 countries and presented very technical information at over 20 different technical conferences. I’ve trained technical experts around the world how to make their messages more understandable. One of the keys to presenting with confidence has been to follow that original advice: “be yourself.” While there are some great rules to follow in terms of how to create presentations and give them, the bottom line is to be yourself. Give your presentation, not the corporate-sounding version of it. Use your personality and not the one you think your company wants. Use your words and not the corporate-speak. If you are yourself, you will be much more understandable and believable.

Bob Goodyear is a veteran speaker on technology who understands the communications challenges that technical professionals face. Find out how Bob can help your organization with its presentation. Reach Bob by email or by phone at 404.790.5855.