Tara Hunt: 3 ways SlideShare helped me grow as a speaker

One of the most vibrant an innovative voices on the web, Tara Hunt is a sought after speaker who creates some of SlideShare’s most popular presentations. Author of The Whuffie Factor, Tara was named one of the most influential women in tech by Fast Company in 2009. She is an early leader of “user generated conferences” and is considered to be one of the founders of the co-working movement. She is the co-founder of Buyosphere, a social site which lets users organize and share buying trends with others. In this interview, Tara shares her experiences as a public speaker, and her approach to creating impactful, memorable presentations.

Tara HuntI didn’t set out to become a public speaker. In fact, the first time I was asked to speak at a conference I was completely terrified by it. I had no idea what I was going to talk about for a FULL 60 MINUTES!!! And who would want to listen to me blather on about stuff that long?!

I had plenty of speakers I admired, but I felt like a bit of a deer in the headlights trying to come up with something good. I’m pretty sure my first presentations were awful.

There were three ways in which Slideshare helped me grow as a speaker: finding my stride as a presenter, improving my skills as a visual communicator and growing my audience (which led to more gigs).

1. Finding My Personal Style of Presentation
It was the combination of the Picasso quote that “great artists steal” and the advent of Slideshare that made me into a professional public speaker.

My favorite thing about the sharing culture of the web is that we can learn from one another’s mistakes and successes. I started following some of my favorite speakers of all time and initially emulated their style. I borrowed styles liberally from everyone I loved, such as Kathy Sierra and Lawrence Lessig. Then I’d post my finished product to Slideshare. With each iteration, I started to come up with my own personal presentation style until I felt 100% comfortable in my own skin.

The evolution is apparent through my Slideshare history. Sometimes I love just going back and seeing how far I’ve come.

2. Improving my Visual Presentation Skills
I’ve always used lots of visuals to present my ideas – where the image on the screen behind me would illustrate or be a play on what I was saying on stage – but when I uploaded my presentations without any audio (I’ve since used the audio functions on Slideshare), I noticed that the message wasn’t entirely clear to the audience.

I looked at this as a challenge to create a visual presentation that was both impactful on stage AND spoke to an online audience who just wanted to flip through my slide decks. The result not only helped make my presentations better, they also helped me with my overall visual presentation skills. I still love words, but I’ve learned to use more imagery for impact.

3. Growing my Audience and Getting Gigs
As my slide decks were shared around, my audience really grew on Slideshare. To this day, I get emails frequently from people who admire my presentations. Being able to publish and promote my presentations has led to being asked to speak at several conferences and has even been directly related to getting consulting jobs.

And, in one case I posted a deck that was picked up by a prominent VC who helped me rethink my business model and pivot to a more successful idea. For anyone that still thinks that sharing one’s ideas leads to negative outcomes, I am living proof that it works opposite.

I definitely got more gigs from having a book. And I’ve definitely sold a bunch of books from having my presentation on Slideshare. You should definitely have ‘related books’ with affiliate codes next to presentations.

How to choose a presentation topic and content
I very rarely repurpose an entire presentation. I hate it when speakers do that. I’ll repurpose some ideas and slides, but every audience is different.

I’ll talk with the customers of the companies I’m presenting to and pretty much create an entire market analysis and strategy to work for that particular audience.

I spend quite a bit of time with each conference organizer to find out who is in the audience and what they need to hear (usually the conference organizer has something she needs me to zero in on, so I focus on that). Then I research the heck out of the background of the audience. If it is an industry conference, I’ll look for examples to illustrate my points from within the industry, I’ll talk with the customers of the companies I’m presenting to and pretty much create an entire market analysis and strategy to work for that particular audience.

For example, I presented a few years back at a national association for Credit Unions and every example I used was dug up from leading edge Credit Unions around the world. I also used an example of a user generated campaign that happened to be executed by someone who was sitting in the audience. I won big brownie points for that one as I asked him to come up on stage and talk about it a bit, adding more depth to my talk.

As for my slide decks, I start with the story arc I need to tell and fill them in with the right visuals to tell that story, both effectively on stage and afterwards, on Slideshare.

Tips for taking public speaking to the next level
I actually have a presentation on Slideshare that could be helpful. It’s called “How to Rock an Audience”:

It’s packed full of tips from getting over that monkey brain chatter to taking your audience on a hero’s journey (Joseph Campbell…but the connection to presentations is borrowed heavily from the amazing Kathy Sierra). I’d also add that Nancy Duarte has become my hero. For those who don’t know her, she’s the one behind Al Gore’s famous Inconvenient Truth presentation a few years back.

Transparency and openness
RE: Open. I just am. I can’t explain it fully, but I’ve always been open. I guess I’ve always believed that if I share the good, bad and ugly, others will, too, and collectively, we’ll make fewer mistakes. I also get more help when I reach out openly. The majority of email I get from others is to thank me for being so candid.

I’ve always found that it helps me to hear that I’m not alone in my struggles. The media makes such a big deal out of success (so and so raised $40M and so and so exited for $1B), but not enough people talk about the years and pain and struggle that come before that moment.

The joke goes something like, “It took me seven years to become an overnight success.” It’s so true. I also believe that many people give up because they think they are unique in their struggles. When I tell the world that I’m broke and frustrated and confused, but I preserver because I still believe in my ideas, they look at their own situation and feel like they can keep going, too.

When nobody is sharing the struggle and you think you are the only one down and out, the monkey chatter comes into your brain and you think you are struggling because you are on the wrong path. Paving new ground means lots of self-doubt and lots of struggle. I share it because I also need the monkey brain chatter quieted down. Those thank you emails help me as much as my openness helped that person.

39 Responses to “Tara Hunt: 3 ways SlideShare helped me grow as a speaker”

  1. Dave Doolin

    “The Years of Pain and Stuggle” is a NYT best-seller title if ever there was one.

  2. Doris Amstutz

    Hi Tara, thanks for sharing. I remember my first presentation before a large group. I certainly had the shakes, but did pull it off well, I think. With the exception perhaps that one person in the audience did come up after and tell me that I sounded so like his mother lecturing him that he felt compelled to do as I had asked :-)

  3. justine mis

    BRAVO! A great positive attitude. thanks for being candid and most of all sharing your experiences. justine

  4. Carolyn Stearns

    Great presentation and motivation to get back into slide share and make some material happen. I have the presentation skills as a storyteller and have done public speaking and a cuple of keynotes time to move this one up a bit thanks for the encouraging words and images.
    P.S. love the teddy bear audience nice move turning wolves to teddy bears!

  5. Kizza Valerian

    I really welcome your message. Thanks, you know most successful people are not willing to avail there secrets to success. I wish the message was endless.

  6. stella

    Thank you so much for sharing. I believe in sharing, and experience has thought me that sharing helps me improve and feedbacks are a great gift. I totally relate to the last 3 paragraphs-there is always a story behind every glory!!!

    By the way, I have a presentation to make next week tuesday and this article has helped me a lot as I didnt want to re-present slides I had used in another event for a new audience.


    This is simply brilliant. Fully agree with all that is said. Great tips. Owe you this one, for sharing GENEROUSLY.

  8. Mel

    A great, informative and motivating presentation! As a lecturer with an everchanging audience i hear the monkey chatter but will now remember slide 5 and remind myself that it actually won’t happen. Thankyou and looking forward to more of the same.

  9. Seun Phillips

    to pass your message across, you have to be passionate. its one of the few secrets that has got me going for a while presenting.

  10. justine mis

    appears you’ve struck a chord! so when’s your next seminar on “rock star presentation techniques!” – would you consider the caribbean? if so, please contact me – just another way to spend a day in paradise! to a better world, justine

  11. Tania

    Tara, thank you very much indeed. Sharing your experince, have given me courage to keep going …

  12. mathew

    great thoughts, it is the desire to learn that changes us and today we have internet which helps to spread the message fast and get quick response

  13. Kathy

    I love the quote”It took me seven years to become an overnight success.” You do need to be able to laugh at yourself! Well said.

  14. Velonda Thompson, PhD

    This article is a great motivator for those of us hard at work branding and building ourselves. I especially like the dscussion on minimizing the chatter in our brain. Thanks for the encouraging words ;~)

    Yours in health !

  15. Reza

    Hi, It was great. Can I have “How to Rock an Audience”? I couldn’t read it.


    Tara, The transparency of your experiences motivated me a lot. I want to become a audience capturing and motivational speaker. Your tips are my guiding path. Thank you very much

  17. Carole

    Bravo, très inspirant, merci Tara pour toute cette générosité et ingéniosité. Merci

  18. Rajasekar

    Wonderful tips on public speaking
    Thank you Tara and thank you slideshare.

  19. Charlitos

    Dear Tara:

    Thank you very much because all your wisdom and life experience. I think the best part of you is your desire to help people no matter if you know them or not. I live in Mexico and you really inspired me. God and Holy Mary bless you (I say a prayer for you and for your teamwork).

  20. Kevin

    Toastmasters is a global organization with 270,000+ members. Hundreds of local club meetings give speakers the opportunity to improve their confidence and speaking skills. If the best way to improve at something is to practice it, Toastmasters is the vehicle to practice presenting before you get infront of your target audience.

  21. Fatmeh

    I will speak at a conference for the first time, your tips is great thank you for sharing such valuable tips.

  22. Rhonda Knoche

    Tara –
    Venturing out on my own after 23 years with a firm, there is certainly a lot of monkey chatter. I have always been comfortable presenting seminars but need some new, fresh approaches. Your share is not only great technical food but also nourishes the spirit because of your openess. I have come to believe and practice the part about sharing the good, the bad and the ugly – so that we can collectively try to minimize mistakes. Well done.