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Beyond Slides: Crafting Captivating Performances Without the Crutch

Stop relying on visual aids and harness the full spectrum of your creativity on stage.

6
minute read
Published on
June 24, 2024
Don't just click through your slide presentation, craft a speech that transforms your audience. Peter Laughter on stage at HEROIC campus.

It’s the night before the event and you’re busy preparing your slide deck. As you type, delete, type, delete, and move around slides (then move them back around), all the typical advice bombards your mind: 

Don’t fill your slides with text. Less is more. 

Don’t read from your slides.

Use captivating, meaningful images that enhance your message.

You’ve probably seen presentations where the speaker reads off the slides, using them as note cards to remember what to say. Maybe you’ve sat through speeches with slides packed airtight with text and technical jargon. You know how that usually goes. 

And you don’t want your presentation to be one of those. You want to inspire, captivate, and change your audience. 

But here’s the truth—it’s not your slide presentation that’s going to do that. 

It’s you, your message, and your ability to deliver that message. 

Your message has the power to change how your audience feels, thinks, and acts. You are on stage to inspire, surprise, delight, and transform your audience. 

The real magic happens not as you click through your slide presentation, but as you change how the audience sees the world—delivering a speech that lives at the intersection of entertainment and insight.

3 Reasons to Ditch the Slide Deck (for Good)

The stage is the place for big ideas. It’s an arena dedicated to the largeness of life: creativity, energy, and enlightenment. No one comes to watch a speech to have a pedestrian experience. 

Audiences want to be transformed. 

The most transformational speakers change lives with their messages. And although they may use slides, they don’t need a slide deck to captivate their audience. They can create a transformational experience under any circumstance, on any stage, for any audience. 

Now, I’m not saying you should boycott PowerPoint or destroy all visual aids. I’m not anti-slides. I’m against unnecessary and distracting slides. I’m against making a slide deck the focal point of your speech. I’m against using a slide deck as a crutch. 

So, yes, a powerful image or visual element can improve your audience’s experience and support you as you create transformational moments. But it won’t do it for you.

If you are being paid to share your message on the big stage, prepare, rehearse, and deliver a transformational experience. In high-stakes situations, you can’t rely on a slide deck to do it for you.  

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build a slide deck and then build a speech to fit it.
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build a speech, then ask: “Are there audio and visual elements that would help improve the audience experience?”
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Maybe the mere thought of ditching your slide deck for good gives you the jitters (and I’m not saying you should abandon all slides). But being able to deliver a speech without slides and still create a transformational experience is the sign of a true professional.  

If you’re able to give up the slides, it can completely revamp, enhance, and refine your performance. In fact, it could lead you to more gigs, bigger audiences, and a more solid speaking business. 

Here are three reasons to stop relying on the slides and start delivering your speech like a true professional. 

#1 The slides will stop working. 

At one point or another in your speaking career, the slides will stop working. It’s inevitable. No matter how much you plan, prepare, and try to prevent certain things from occurring, tech problems happen. 

When the unexpected happens, will you know what to do next? Or will your whole presentation come crashing down? 

Professional speakers who’ve rehearsed their speeches know exactly what comes next. They can flawlessly continue with their performance and provide a transformational experience—with or without visual aids. 

But speakers who rely on their slide presentation? Not so much. 

#2 You look like an amateur. 

If you can’t give your speech without the slides, you’re not a professional speaker. It’s as simple as that. 

Professional speakers almost never look at the slides. 

They don’t need to. They know their speech so well, they know exactly what’s coming next, what they’re going to say, how they’re going to say it, and how they’re going to make their audience feel. 

If you do decide to use visual aids, make sure they don’t scream “amateur.” Make sure they’re clean, precise, and professional. 

Oh, and don’t point the clicker at the big screen. It’s not a ‘90s TV remote. You can hold the clicker by your side (or even in your pocket) and change the slide without anybody noticing. 

#3 You can’t be fully present if you’re not fully prepared. 

If you’re constantly thinking about what slide comes next, you can’t be present. You can’t transform the audience. You can’t perform. 

Your mind is so busy thinking about what to say next, it can’t focus on anything else. Performance requires a higher level of consciousness; it requires more than just rote memorization. 

When you know your speech so well and have rehearsed so much that your words come to you in the moment—as if it’s the first time they’ve ever come out of your mouth—you can be fully present on stage. 

The more prepared you are, the more you can connect with the audience and provide a transformational experience. 

Event organizers want the safe bet. 

To show you just how important these three reasons can be for anyone who speaks on stage or presents to an audience of any size, let’s go back in time—to the early days.

It was around 2010. My friend Chris Brogan, the New York Times-bestselling author, asks me to deliver a twenty-minute speech at the Helen Hayes Theater in NYC, as a favor. (Translation? For free.)

I’m five minutes into the speech. Behind me, unique, hand-drawn illustrations from Book Yourself Solid appear on the big screen. 

Everything is going great. And then…the tech fails. 

I can tell from the troubled expression on the AV guy’s face that the visuals are not returning any time soon. 

I set the clicker aside, continue the speech, and finish without any problems. I had rehearsed my speech hundreds of times, so the tech hiccup didn’t affect the presentation. 

But the most important part of the story is what happened the next day. I get a call from David Marine, who was at the event.

He asks me to be the keynote speaker for the annual Coldwell Banker conference at Lincoln Center—where Tom Selleck would also be speaking. 

“I’d be honored! Why me?” I ask. (You should always ask why they choose you, and track every answer you get.) 

David tells me that he was at the Helen Hayes Theater (stageside lead) and thinks the speech is perfect for his conference. But what really sold him was how seamlessly I handled the tech failure. He was impressed that I was able to carry on without the slides. 

After I thank him for his kind words, I ask “Can’t most professional speakers do that?” 

He laughs—a bit too hard—the kind of laugh that holds more than a tinge of cynicism, perhaps from being burned too many times, and simply says, “No.”

X Mark icon
Don't
rely on your slides to know what to say.
Check mark icon
Do
make your audience and event planners feel safe by truly knowing your speech.

Want more gigs? Ditch the slides. 

Why did David feel so confident and comfortable booking me for such a high-stakes event (and after seeing me speak for only twenty minutes)?

Because my composure under pressure demonstrated three things: professionalism, preparedness, and safety. 

Safety seals the deal. 

Meeting planners value professionalism—being able to deliver a best-in-class performance no matter what happens—more than you realize. Their reputation and career depend on your ability to deliver exactly what you promise to do. 

That’s why they want a safe bet—someone who does what they promise to do, no matter what goes wrong. 

So stop worrying about creating “the perfect” slide deck. 

Instead, focus on rehearsing your speech and knowing it so well you can perform it without the slides. When you liberate yourself from the confining grasp of the clicker, you’ll be able to be fully present on stage—and give an unforgettable performance, every single time. 

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Do
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Maybe the mere thought of ditching your slide deck for good gives you the jitters (and I’m not saying you should abandon all slides). But being able to deliver a speech without slides and still create a transformational experience is the sign of a true professional.  

If you’re able to give up the slides, it can completely revamp, enhance, and refine your performance. In fact, it could lead you to more gigs, bigger audiences, and a more solid speaking business. 

Here are three reasons to stop relying on the slides and start delivering your speech like a true professional. 

#1 The slides will stop working. 

At one point or another in your speaking career, the slides will stop working. It’s inevitable. No matter how much you plan, prepare, and try to prevent certain things from occurring, tech problems happen. 

When the unexpected happens, will you know what to do next? Or will your whole presentation come crashing down? 

Professional speakers who’ve rehearsed their speeches know exactly what comes next. They can flawlessly continue with their performance and provide a transformational experience—with or without visual aids. 

But speakers who rely on their slide presentation? Not so much. 

#2 You look like an amateur. 

If you can’t give your speech without the slides, you’re not a professional speaker. It’s as simple as that. 

Professional speakers almost never look at the slides. 

They don’t need to. They know their speech so well, they know exactly what’s coming next, what they’re going to say, how they’re going to say it, and how they’re going to make their audience feel. 

If you do decide to use visual aids, make sure they don’t scream “amateur.” Make sure they’re clean, precise, and professional. 

Oh, and don’t point the clicker at the big screen. It’s not a ‘90s TV remote. You can hold the clicker by your side (or even in your pocket) and change the slide without anybody noticing. 

#3 You can’t be fully present if you’re not fully prepared. 

If you’re constantly thinking about what slide comes next, you can’t be present. You can’t transform the audience. You can’t perform. 

Your mind is so busy thinking about what to say next, it can’t focus on anything else. Performance requires a higher level of consciousness; it requires more than just rote memorization. 

When you know your speech so well and have rehearsed so much that your words come to you in the moment—as if it’s the first time they’ve ever come out of your mouth—you can be fully present on stage. 

The more prepared you are, the more you can connect with the audience and provide a transformational experience. 

Event organizers want the safe bet. 

To show you just how important these three reasons can be for anyone who speaks on stage or presents to an audience of any size, let’s go back in time—to the early days.

It was around 2010. My friend Chris Brogan, the New York Times-bestselling author, asks me to deliver a twenty-minute speech at the Helen Hayes Theater in NYC, as a favor. (Translation? For free.)

I’m five minutes into the speech. Behind me, unique, hand-drawn illustrations from Book Yourself Solid appear on the big screen. 

Everything is going great. And then…the tech fails. 

I can tell from the troubled expression on the AV guy’s face that the visuals are not returning any time soon. 

I set the clicker aside, continue the speech, and finish without any problems. I had rehearsed my speech hundreds of times, so the tech hiccup didn’t affect the presentation. 

But the most important part of the story is what happened the next day. I get a call from David Marine, who was at the event.

He asks me to be the keynote speaker for the annual Coldwell Banker conference at Lincoln Center—where Tom Selleck would also be speaking. 

“I’d be honored! Why me?” I ask. (You should always ask why they choose you, and track every answer you get.) 

David tells me that he was at the Helen Hayes Theater (stageside lead) and thinks the speech is perfect for his conference. But what really sold him was how seamlessly I handled the tech failure. He was impressed that I was able to carry on without the slides. 

After I thank him for his kind words, I ask “Can’t most professional speakers do that?” 

He laughs—a bit too hard—the kind of laugh that holds more than a tinge of cynicism, perhaps from being burned too many times, and simply says, “No.”

X Mark icon
Dont
rely on your slides to know what to say.
Check mark icon
Do
make your audience and event planners feel safe by truly knowing your speech.

Want more gigs? Ditch the slides. 

Why did David feel so confident and comfortable booking me for such a high-stakes event (and after seeing me speak for only twenty minutes)?

Because my composure under pressure demonstrated three things: professionalism, preparedness, and safety. 

Safety seals the deal. 

Meeting planners value professionalism—being able to deliver a best-in-class performance no matter what happens—more than you realize. Their reputation and career depend on your ability to deliver exactly what you promise to do. 

That’s why they want a safe bet—someone who does what they promise to do, no matter what goes wrong. 

So stop worrying about creating “the perfect” slide deck. 

Instead, focus on rehearsing your speech and knowing it so well you can perform it without the slides. When you liberate yourself from the confining grasp of the clicker, you’ll be able to be fully present on stage—and give an unforgettable performance, every single time. 

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