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How To Avoid Being A Bozo When Presenting

We all know what a bozo sounds like. It is the person who gets up on stage at an event and spends the whole time talking about themselves. They show little regard for the concerns or time of the audience. They offer little value and useful advice, preferring instead to share obvious truths and useless repetitions of things the audience already knows. Guy Kawasaki calls these people bozos, others call them far worse names. I’ll use Guy’s word for them, as it’s kind and unkind at the same time (he’s got an undeniable skill for coining words like that). Though I’m a frequent speaker and try to abide by my own lessons, the real reason I’m writing this post as I head into lots of events this fall is because I know I will be spending far more time in the audience listening to other speakers than I will on stage myself. So for my own benefit, as well as the others who attend events, here’s my own indispensable list of how to avoid being a bozo on stage. Please pass around liberally to anyone you know who will be speaking at an event sometime soon … we will all be happier if everyone takes these lessons to heart:

  1. Don’t sell. This is the most obvious rule, and yet it is ignored with surprising regularity. Usually prefaced by something like "I know we’re not supposed to sell, but …" or "Just wanted to offer a shameless plug for …" This is pretty simple. Just don’t do it, it’s the fastest way to bozoland.
  2. Talk less. How intelligent you are perceived on stage is indirectly proportional to how much you say. Though this is tough advice to follow if you are speaking a solo session, in a panel environment, make your point quickly and then shut up. You’ll find a lot more people pay attention.
  3. Answer the question. You’d be amazed how often speakers forget to actually answer the question they are asked and go off on a random answer for something else. It’s ok to change the topic or eleborate, but be sure you answer the question someone asks you first.
  4. Stick to the topic. When you are up on stage, it is usually because you are considered an expert and knowledgable at what you do. In that situation, it’s tempting to try and share lots of information about unrelated topics. Try to stick to the topic of your session or event and the audience will thank you for it.
  5. Use real examples. Anytime you are on stage, your bio in a show program will never be enough to convince someone that you know what you’re talking about. Nothing does this faster and better than using real examples instead of theories. Having a great theory is fine, but to really gain respect as a speaker, you need to break out the real life examples.
  6. Avoid being obvious. Here’s an exercise for you. Think about your industry or your job and the 10 most obvious truths you can come up with for it. Things like "you need to sell to make money." Then make a personal promise to yourself to NEVER say them out loud. You’ll already be ahead of many other speakers.
  7. Create visuals, NOT powerpoint. There is no excuse to ever present anywhere with bad crowded illegible powerpoint slides. There are brilliant books from Presentation Zen (and Garr’s Blog) to slide:ology (and Nancy’s Blog)  to help you create better visuals. If you can’t or don’t have the ability to create good visuals, memorize your stuff and don’t bother with those slides.
  8. Stay afterwards. A big mistake many speakers make is to rush out of an event right after they speak. I understand sometimes schedules are tight and you have no option, but if you can, make your schedule so you can stay for some time. Committing your own time to an event sends a strong signal that you feel it’s important, and that you respect the time of all the other attendees and speakers.  And a special bonus tip …
  9. Take off your dork tag. When you’re on stage, take that damn name tag off. Seriously, you’ll look way more professional and more importantly, the photos and videos that people will inevitably be taking and uploading to YouTube, Flickr, Facebook and elsewhere will have you coming out much better. The exception to this rule, of course, is if your nametag is part of your marketing!

10 thoughts on “How To Avoid Being A Bozo When Presenting”

  1. I would add give context. Especially if you’re explaining something like a new paradigm, explain why now and how to keep up as the trend matures. Constructing a context often helps detail your point of view and underlying logic.

    ps in #2 you say “indirectly proportional” when I think you mean inversely proportional

  2. I completely agree. There’s nothing worse than watching a presenter sell their product for an hour, or to come away thinking it was a complete waste of time.

    By the way, after seeing you at BlogWorld with Tim Ferriss and Mike Shinoda, you should also write a post on moderating. You did an excellent job of guiding the conversation, and getting the hell out of the way when it got good.

  3. Thanks for some great advice. I’m conducting an in-house presentation training tomorrow and I’ll steal a couple of these you don’t mind.

    One I would add to your list: Avoid the podium “grip of death” or better yet, avoid the podium completely. Standing in one place feels unnatural and looks unnatural.


    Daniel Durazo
    Richmond, VA

  4. Great post. In points 2 & 3 there’s the lesson of the art of listening, which if we believe in the power of social media and consumer dialogue, we must extend to speakers. Any of us can be guilty of the ‘me’ thing and following a canned speech. To go off road (or off podium) and actively engage the audience always works.


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