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

July 9, 2012

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":

[slideshare id=10033579&doc=speakingpresentation-111104231741-phpapp02]
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.