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April 2024
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Are You Presenting or Performing?

Tips to focus on your point, not your persona.

By Joel Schwartzberg

Man presenting speech on left while woman acts onstage with script on right

Do you want to be a great public speaker? Probably—who doesn’t? But that aspiration becomes problematic if you make it your primary goal.

Here’s the issue: When you focus on how people perceive you (for example, as a fantastic speaker), you steer your mindset toward performing (“here’s how I want to be seen”), when it should be focused on presenting (“here’s what I want people to know”).

Remember, the speaker’s goal is to sell their point, so the focus should always be on the impact of the ideas you deliver, not the impression you make as a person.

Below are four crucial mindsets to keep yourself on the presenting side of the present/perform equation and why those mindsets best serve your actual goals as a public speaker.

1Stand and Deliver

When you consider a speaker’s true purpose, the role is more like that of a delivery person than an actor. Just look at how we phrase the two roles differently: An actor performs a monologue. A speaker delivers or presents a speech. Effective public speaking isn’t about who you are. It’s about what you do.

Consider how this plays out in other professions:

  • Should a plumber focus on being “the best plumber” or fixing pipes?
  • Should a ship captain aspire to being “an awesome captain” or taking passengers safely from dock to dock?
  • Should an executive work toward being seen as a “great leader” or effectively leading the team?

In each case, there’s a difference between perception and profession, and the more practical objectives are clear: We want a plumber who fixes pipes, a captain who safely navigates the ship, a leader who effectively leads, and a speaker who delivers meaningful points.

2No Need to Compare

Another pitfall of a performance mindset is the tendency to compare your performance to other performers. But the truth is, no one is better qualified to deliver your presentation than you are. You conceived it, studied it, wrote it, built it, practiced it, improved it, and presented it. That’s what makes you more qualified than even noted speakers like the late Apple computers founder Steve Jobs, former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, the CEO of your company, or a Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking.

When you focus on elevating your public speaking abilities—not emulating your public speaking idols—you leverage what makes you and your speech unique and put yourself in the best position to succeed.

3Shun the Spotlight

Public speaking anxiety is not really a fear of public speaking. It’s a fear of public humiliation: What if I screw up and people think worse of me? That’s a frightening thought, but one that misses the point because, again, it focuses on perception and performance.

An actor performs a monologue. A speaker delivers or presents a speech.

Actual performers—actors, singers, comics, models, and dancers—may reasonably feel more pressure because the spotlight is on them and how talented, funny, attractive, or creative they are. But what is gained when the public speaker is remembered, but not their point? Not much, unless your goal is simply to get more public speaking gigs. However, what is gained when the points are remembered, but the speaker less so? Just about everything.

4Skip the Script

Years ago, the stereotype of a public speaker was a person who read a speech word for word from a dozen or so index cards. But reading aloud is, in essence, performing—whether it’s prose or a proposal. I encourage my clients to avoid writing and reading from scripts because the performance of reading can weaken your authenticity, your spontaneity, your credibility, and your ability to emote as you’re speaking.

Instead, construct smart notes that enable you to articulate, prove, and champion your ideas “live” with sincere conviction, whether it’s a major address or a 90-second Table Topic®.

To be fair, many aspects of effective performance carry over into the world of effective presentation, including volume, eye contact, pausing, gesturing, and vocal variety. But the most important thing about a presentation is its point. Your job is to present it, not merely perform it.


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