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I sat there waiting for my turn as the 9th speaker in a TEDx style conference. All the previous speakers were corporate sponsors of some kind. People who had been sent there with approved presentations produced most likely by someone else. They desperately wanted to connect to their audience and communicate their vision to the people watching them. But they were handcuffed by what their legal and marketing departments would allow them to say. The results? Both the speakers and the audience were in agony.

Connecting To Your Audience

As I watched one speaker after the other lose the audience engagement, my heart broke for them. They were trying so hard to be relevant, interesting and engaging. Others were simply trying to get through the slides they were given. One excruciating line by line. Ironically, the audience was so disengaged (heads down, phones on!) that many of the speakers themselves left as soon as they were done. Not I! I sat through the whole session. From start to finish because I wanted to learn about this phenomenon I was witnessing: the loss of connection between speaker and audience.

Slides Don’t Matter

What I wanted to tell each and every one of these well meaning, passionate speakers is that the slides that you’re handcuffed with don’t matter. You don’t ever even have to refer to them or glance at them. You can have your own narrative going on in the room. Having worked with numerous clients in the medical and financial industries, I know that speakers are terrified to cross lines. But nobody can argue with the fact that your slides don’t have to dictate your stories.

Here’s the Rub

The true connecting thread for anything in life is emotions. Emotions sell. Emotions get attention. They get buy-in. They get the job done. The way to thread emotions into any presentation-handcuffed or not-is first to have a really clear point that you are trying to get across illustrated by a story. Maybe it’s to convince people to stop using chemical cleaners. Maybe it’s to interest them in your Youth Community Program. Maybe it’s to sell your services. Whatever it is, just decide what it is and tell stories that illustrate the point. I’ll give an example: when I teach people about elevator pitches, I start by telling the story of when I was a brand manager at Pepsi Co. I talk about how I’d hang up on terrible vendor pitches. In contrast, I then tell the story of a great pitch by a vendor that I didn’t hang up on. I conclude by telling the audience about how I ended up winning an industry award for the program that that supplier helped me craft. The story hooks the audience. The story gets emotion, attention and ultimately conversion.

So forget the slides you can’t change and stop being afraid of what you can and can’t present. Instead, start weaving in deliberate stories about what you’re trying to teach and cease the agony of being handcuffed by your presentation.

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