Why you should leave ‘holes’ in your speeches

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Are you interested in becoming a better presenter? Here’s one unusual tip: Leave more ‘holes’ in your speeches…

I do a lot of presentations — some in person, the others online. (The online ones are always much harder!) And here is something I’ve always done naturally: Whenever I have a story to tell — and I try to fill my presentations with them — I never write it out word for word. I just write myself a note. Something simple, like this: “Tell XYZ story.”

I learned yesterday, in reading the Mr. Media Training blog, that this technique is called the ‘hole strategy.’ Let me emphasize that these are not holes in your ceiling or walls (as in the photo, above.) Instead, they are ‘holes’ in your script, in which you give yourself explicit directions to speak extemporaneously for a minute or more. Here’s how Mr. Media Training — former ABC and CNN reporter Brad Phillips — describes it:

I know someone who volunteers at a hospital, where she delivers the orientation workshop to new volunteers. She’s not alone in that role—other experienced volunteers also lead the same workshop. To ensure uniformity among the speakers, the hospital prepared a PowerPoint deck for the speakers to use. While that approach makes sense, it can also lead to stilted talks that sound as if they’ve been written by somebody else.

When speakers are asked to deliver such a template presentation, I encourage them to think of it as an off-the-rack pair of pants. Just as new pants often need to be hemmed or cuffed, the same is true with template presentations; you don’t have to wear them “as is.” Most presentations will benefit if you make a few alterations by injecting your own personality into them while retaining their basic shape.

I find this technique works really well and is exceptionally easy to implement. If you’re telling a story that you know well, there’s no danger that you’re going to forget it. Also, if you’re presenting in person, you can see in the eyes of your audience how much they appreciate your ability to connect with them. I also like that it saves me a great deal of time in preparing.

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