Bill Gates always used to suffer from comparisons of his public speaking abilities with those of Steve Jobs. Jobs was slick, Gates awkward. Jobs was a showman, Gates seemed like he’d be happier anywhere than onstage. Jobs was hard to fluster, even when the technology failed him and his demos didn’t go quite as planned. Gates had a hard time recovering, often looked upset or even angry.
But lately he’s been delivering some impressive presentations. Maybe it’s that he’s getting more practice (he seems to have a spot permanently reserved at the TED conference). Maybe it’s because he’s been getting some really great coaching. I suspect, though, that it’s mainly because he’s speaking about issues that he really cares about rather than having to hawk products like Windows Vista. His speech about malaria last year made great use of a crazy and effective prop– a jar full of mosquitos– and you can tell in this talk about education and state budgets that he feels really strongly about the issue. It’s not the most amazing presentation ever (it is about state budgets, for crying out loud), but it is well done. His delivery is solid, if not slick, and the images he uses to support his points are streamlined and effective.
So the 2011 award for Most Improved Public Speaker goes to Bill Gates. But what’s great is that the changes he’s made to his speaking style are things that anyone can emulate to become a better speaker. Be passionate about your topics, simplify your visual aids, and practice so you get comfortable in front of an audience. None of this requires any tricks.
OK, so there is one little trick– note in the video how the TED conference provides a monitor between the speaker and the audience that the presenter can use as a teleprompter to stay on track without seeming to read anything. You can sometimes catch a glimpse of it in the footlights when the camera is filming the audience. Having resources like this available can help make anyone a better presenter. You may not have access to such an elaborate AV setup, but think about whether you can place your laptop in front of you to achieve a similar effect.