Transform into a better speaker with the right kind of preparation

Michael Bay is the Hollywood director behind blockbuster movies like The Rock, Armageddon and Transformers. He was recently invited to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) by Samsung to help launch their curved televisions. It’s the major venue for brands to launch their products.

What happened when Michael took the stage is not that pretty. According to Michael:

Wow! I just embarrassed myself at CES – I was about to speak for Samsung for this awesome Curved 105-inch UHD TV. I rarely lend my name to any products, but this one is just stellar. I got so excited to talk, that I skipped over the Exec VP’s intro line and then the teleprompter got lost. Then the prompter went up and down – then I walked off. I guess live shows aren’t my thing.

You can see the video here. It’s all over in a minute:


Among the flood of reactions, there’ s a point of view that Michael was struck by stagefright. Stagefright is a power reaction to the idea of speaking in public that affects many people to such a great extent that they’re unable to speak. They’re simply overcome by their physical reactions to anxiety.


However, having watched the video a couple of times I think otherwise. As Michael mentioned in his blog, he skipped the teleprompter introduction and then it got lost. And he says on the video, “The type is off. Let’s wing it right now. “


I’ve seen this many times before. It’s a reliance on a crutch. It could be a PowerPoint deck, it could be a script or some notes. In this case it was a teleprompter with his word-for-word script. In other words, he could only read in public not speak in public.


In my opinion, this is not caused by stagefright but by the wrong type of preparation. Michael Bay is no doubt being paid some big bucks by Samsung and I’m sure he spent some time thinking through and preparing his script. But he didn’t take it to the next level of rehearsal. As I recently commented on a public speaking group on LinkedIN:

Don’t rely on the technology. He needed the teleprompter to speak and that’s not a good place to be when it stops working. I help my executives to speak without notes or other crutches. The confidence this gives them allows them to better use slides and other speaking aids. It requires more preparation and a leap of faith.

A good speaker may start with a script or notes but at the end of rehearsal will be able to deliver the talk without referring to a script or notes. If the speaker is unable to do that, then they are not ready. It’s just a part of the process. If you stop half way through the process, you’re under-prepared.

What this needs is adequate preparation involving clearly mapping out a flow or direction for the talk. Refining a message that articulates your point of view. And supplementing your message with an interesting array of supporting material such as anecdotes, examples, and data if relevant. Just like an actor would first read a script, then run through a rehearsal script-in-hand and finally be able to perform without any notes, every good public speaker follows a similar process.

The problem occurs when speakers stop their rehearsal too soon. This is the curse of PowerPoint. I’m sure you’ve seen more than a few speakers just reading from the slides off the screen. This is because they have not mastered their content. They may have spent a lot of time making their slides but it’s not the right type of preparation for a public speaker. It’s not asking too much that Michael Bay should be able to speak about why he’s working with Samsung, what he think of the product and how the experience might look for consumers.

In the same way, when I coach executives who are giving public speeches at town halls, conferences or all-hands meetings, they often start by insisting that they hold notes or have their script in front of them. What happens, of course, is that gradually they start to refer to their notes more and more and finally all they are doing is reading from a script. It looks and sounds awful. I help them see this and move on to a the next level or preparation.

The script is simply a crutch that good rehearsal can overcome. Once you’ve mastered the content, you can then use a slidedeck to prompt your flow or to trigger a story or example.

In Michael Bay’s case, all he had to do was keep his composure and be ready to go off-script. The Samsung executive was asking him set up questions that he could have easily answered, like “What do you think of the Curve (TV)?”. Surely you don’t need a script to say a few words about that.

In this case, perhaps things will work out well. As Oscar Wilde said “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

2 Responses to “Transform into a better speaker with the right kind of preparation”

  • I like your articles. Because I just experienced some satisfying (by myself) presentations, but I don’t know why I made it, and I wonder whether I can make such good presentations in the future. Your article helps me to summarize the method. Thank you.

  • I like your articles. Your article helps me to summarize the method. Thank you.

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