Death by Gary

“Hey, don’t forget the status meeting on Monday morning.  Gary is presenting.”

“Oh for ____ sakes.  Not again.  That guy sucks.”

Gary could totally be you.  You could’ve been Gary for your entire career and not know it.

That’s the thing with corporate presentations.  Nobody ever tells anybody that they sucked because people rarely ask for feedback.  They get through it, pat themselves on the back and never ask anybody how they can do better.  It’s too bad because live presentations are the single greatest opportunities to demonstrate organization ability and thought leadership. There is no hiding when you’re up there.  You open your mouth.  It’s fair game.  At that point, whether you attained your degree from Harvard or Jimmy’s House O’MBAs is completely irrelevant.

An entire industry exists to remind people that they need help to speak out.  Spend your money on a Toastmasters membership instead.  It’s a hundred and forty bucks for the year.  You’ll speak in front of people every time you’re there.  There is no better value.  There is no better learning and no better place to build confidence and ability.

To improve your public speaking, you need to speak publicly.   A lot.   

But what if your presentation is tomorrow?  What if you are Gary and it’s too late to do anything about your content and deck?  What’s the one thing that will make it suck less for the people who have to sit through this?

Death by Gary


Energy is not bursting through the door and high-fiving everybody along the way.  You’re only allowed to do that after you’ve won at least one cage match.  If you’ve artificially pumped up your room and followed up with crap delivery, you’ve doubly disappointed.

Do this.

(I’m assuming you know your material cold and won’t be reading word-for-word from your slides.  For each slide you read word-for-word, the audience wants you to drop dead by 33.3%.  This means you have overstayed your welcome after the third slide you’ve read)

  1. Know the room.  Know where the furthest person will be sitting.  Make sure that person can see and feel your movement.
  2. Gauge the energy level of the audience.  Do they like you?  Are they forced to be there?  Do they even care about what you have to say?  If everybody’s miserable because of recent events (layoffs, restructuring, bad quarter, etc), start at their mood level and aim to raise it with every statement without coming on strong right off the bat.
  3. Speak with passion and contour.  Practice over and over again, inserting pauses to create moments where the audience needs you to resolve the tension.  “What do you think the results were?” followed by a pause has far more impact than simply stating the results.  Tension builds energy.  Unless you’re as brilliant as Steven Wright or Mitch Hedberg, speaking in monotone is a sure way to brew a deep hatred for what you’re saying.
  4. Try to make out the eye colours of the people closest to you. This ensures eye contact.  Consistent eye contact builds energy. When others see you making eye contact with someone, they will hope you’ll look at them as well.  This gradually builds energy throughout the room.
  5. Move around.  If you know your material, you don’t need to stand beside the laptop.  Nothing sucks more energy out of the room than a presenter who doesn’t move.
  6. Look alive.  Look energetic.  Stay in shape.  I’m going to keep hounding at this forever.  Nobody believes you can improve their lives and business with your message if you cannot manage your own health and appearance.  It’s like a doctor who chain-smokes Marlboros.

Always enter the room in a good mood.  This is obvious.  If you don’t want to be there, your audience will want to be there less.  Before every talk or workshop, I lock myself in my car and blast the music.  If I’m not near my car, I plug in the headphones and find a hallway to dance in.   And if someone sees me?  Awesome. At least one person will be laughing (even if it’s at me.)

Use this next time:


***Gary is not a real person.  I’m sure there are a great many Gary’s that present like rock stars,  Don’t sue me***