[Lesson 2] Getting Your First Talk Together (And Saving Yourself Headaches)

The hard part of getting your first talk together… is getting your first talk together.

You’re worried about what you’ll say. You’re worried about what people will think. You’re worried about getting everything right. Here’s the thing: your audience just doesn’t care about you. They care about themselves.

In this week’s lesson, we’re going to focus on completing the first step towards getting you on stage: pulling slides together into your first deck.

On love, hate and indifference.

Now that you know the rules of the invisible game (you read Lesson 1, right?), you know that a great public speaker always focuses on giving the audience what they want. Said another way, you should worry more about losing the audience’s attention than caring about what they think.

Here’s the thing: it’s better to be loved or hated than to be forgotten.

When I’m on stage, my #1 goal is to make sure I’m interesting enough that no one in the audience wants to check their email. As you’ll recall from last week, what I say on stage is important but how I say it makes all the difference.

On creating original content.

Before we can focus on delivery (eg, how you present on stage), we’ve got to pull our slides together — this is commonly called “the deck.”

The first step towards pulling a deck together is to have something interesting to share. The important thing to note is that having something interesting to share is not the same as having something original to share.

The reality is that, unless you’re working on the cutting edge of industry, you’re going to be talking about some sort of existing industry or process. That’s OK: every other public speaker — including me — does it. Don’t be discouraged, the goal here is to simply pull the first version of the deck together.

Before we continue, let me show you something: here’s the deck I created for one of my earliest talks (in August of 2012) and the deck I created for one of my latest talks (in September of 2015). You should take a moment to click through both of those briefly and then continue reading this email.

OK, welcome back. A couple things you should notice on those decks:

  1. The content is mostly the same.

  2. I’m not using a default Keynote theme.

  3. They’re long. Really long.

Let’s dive into these individually.

Observation #1: You will re-use content. Get the first version done today.

You don’t need to create a new deck for every talk (though, stay tuned — in an upcoming lesson, we’ll talk about some tactical tricks you can use to keep the content fresh over the years). Once you’ve got the basics of your deck together, you’re past the hardest point.

As I recall, I spent the majority of a late Saturday night pulling the first version of my deck together back in 2012. It wasn’t easy, you need to commit to starting and finishing the first version. Just do it.

At this stage, don’t worry about how the slides look — focus on braindumping your key points into the deck. For now, use the most basic template that’s included in Powerpoint or Keynote.

Observation #2: Design matters.

Once you’ve completed the first version of the deck, it’s time to put some design love on the master slides. Don’t skip this step, nothing screams “I’m boring!” more than the default slide templates on Powerpoint and Keynote.

If you’re a designer or want to give this a shot yourself, take a look at Slideshare’s featured decks for inspiration. If you’d rather have someone else do it, use 99designs orUpwork. (Click those last two links to browse similar Powerpoint and Keynote themes that have been custom created for others.)

Don’t skimp here: a simple but customized template will serve you for many years and instantly make your deck stand out of the crowd. I’ve always felt that the template I use (see my slides above) was the best $250 I ever spent.

Observation #3: You’re an expert, show it.

If you’re pitching someone one on one, a short deck — less than 12 slides —  is usually best. When you’re on stage, I’ve found that longer decks tend to work better. (As you’ve already seen in my decks above, I’m pushing 70+ slides for a 45-60 minute talk.)

The goal isn’t to overwhelm the audience or bore them to death, it’s to share your knowledge in a way that helps the audience achieve their own goals. In my talks, for example, my goal is to help the audience understand how startups have changed, how venture capital has changed and how the cities of tomorrow will be built. (Look for the dark transition slides in my latest deck.) Within each of those topics, I dive deeper into the underlying changes.

With all that out of the way, let’s get to the point: it’s time to get your first deck together. Last week, I asked you to do some research — it’s time to put that to work.

Exercise #1: Make your deck today. Take one of the items that you came up with in Exercise #4 last week and get started. It doesn’t need to be perfect or beautiful, you just need to get it done. Aim for 20-30 slides and dump everything in your brain onto slides using a font size of 30 or greater. Less words, more punch. (I’ll be honest with you, this will likely be the hardest exercise of this entire course — I hope you won’t leave me hanging on this one. Look at my decks, other decks on Slideshare and even the presentations you looked up last week for inspiration.)

Exercise #2: Make a short list of upcoming events. Believe it or not, most event organizers would kill to have more speakers — especially speakers that can engage the audience. Make a short list of 10 upcoming events within a 100 miles of your home — look for speaking opportunities at local schools/colleges/university events and local meetups. Reach out to the organizers and ask if they’re looking for experts in [your topic] to speak at their upcoming event.

Exercise #3: Send me the results of your efforts on the last two items. If you’re serious about doing the work, I’ll help you get ahead.

That’s it for now. Next week, we’ll work on preparing for your first talk. Get the exercises done and send them to me, all you have to do is hit ‘reply.’

Talk to you soon.


P.S. I’m going to select 10 people for a 3 month 1:1 coaching program that is customized to YOUR specific needs and objectives. This will be first come, first serve and a waitlist after that. Apply now.

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