Know Your Stuff

No more PowerPoint presentations…from me.

I speak a lot. Too much, my wife tells me.

I’ve given a lot of speeches, presentations, and keynote addresses in my career. A lot—like hundreds. Been on multiple 50-city tours. International even.

My absolute finest moment was a speech in Birmingham, Alabama. About five minutes before going live in front of a small, but important audience, I realized that I had lost my dongle. Lost your dongle, you ask?

I’d recently switched from a PC to a Mac, and all you Mac users know (sometimes painfully) the only, and I mean only, way you can connect to a projector is to use the white connector sold by Apple called a dongle.

No dongle—no connection.

No connection—no presentation.

No presentation—welcome to the horror called extemporaneous speaking.

Some of you recall that in 1992, President Bill Clinton was giving a significant speech to Congress on his proposed healthcare policy, when he stepped up to the podium and noticed the wrong speech was loaded into the teleprompter. His advance team had left a previous State of the Union speech (used by him for practice), forcing him to ad-lib for almost 10 minutes until they noticed their mistake, with zero prompting from him, and replaced it in real time so he could transition over. Unreal. Incredible. Say what you will—the man is a masterful communicator.

Back to me (some of you are thinking, only Scott Miller could write a story and draw a comparison to a U.S. president). I turned to my co-presenter in Birmingham, dropped the bomb on her, looked at the audience, and opened with a giant “Good morning, Birmingham! Welcome to FranklinCovey’s…”

We both talked extemporaneously for four hours, with zero slides until after lunch, when a member of our event team returned with a dongle from the nearest Apple store (50 miles away), and we finished the final four hours of the day with a working deck (nobody knew the difference).

Here’s the point. It forced my colleague (Deb Hauck, a true master) and me, with literally a few minutes’ notice, to draw upon everything we knew about the content and deliver with a cadence, enthusiasm, and storytelling skills we’d yet had to use.

That day in Birmingham changed my professional speaking career. No laptop? No problem. No projector, no screen, no electricity? No problem. I now ensure whenever I am in front of any size audience, I have the topic so mastered (I don’t speak on topics I can’t master) that I don’t need slides or any tools at all.

I’ve even taken it a step further. I no longer use PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi, or any other presentation package. I just speak from the heart, bringing my all to the audience. I try to know my topic so well and have my stories so deliberately constructed that I can paint a picture just as vibrant as any image on the screen. Well…close enough.

Challenge yourself: are you willing to demonstrate your expertise? Competence? Passion?



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About the Author

Scott Miller

Scott Miller is a 25-year associate of FranklinCovey and serves as Senior Advisor, Thought Leadership. Scott hosts the world’s largest and fastest-growing podcast/newsletter devoted to leadership development, On Leadership. Additionally, Scott is the author of the multi-week Amazon #1 New Releases, Master Mentors: 30 Transformative Insights From Our Greatest Minds, Management Mess to Leadership Success: 30 Challenges to Become the Leader You Would Follow, and the Wall Street Journal bestseller, Everyone Deserves a Great Manager: The 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his wife and three sons.

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