The transition from presenter to speaker

I had left my laptop's charger in the conference room of my client's office without realizing it. I was at the DFW airport, working on the next day's presentation on my way to Indiana, when my battery went dead and I realized my mistake.


My entire career flashed before my eyes. "They will know that I'm nothing without PowerPoint," I thought to myself. At that time in my career I was not a speaker. I was a presenter. And without PowerPoint, I had no power and no point.

Time for Plans B and C. Never had them before.

Plan B was to buy a new charger in Atlanta, but I doubted any of the shops would be open after 10, when my connecting flight was scheduled to arrive.

Plan C was scratched out on a Delta napkin. I wrote an entirely new talk... one that I could remember -- not because I had a great memory but because it was native to me and I knew it in my bones.

For the next 90 minutes, every ounce of focus was on this napkin... I didn't write a presentation. I wrote a format for a conversation. I didn't have to memorize it as much as figure out some triggers to keep the flow. This wasn't going to be the end of me... it was the beginning.

Connecting in Atlanta, I had to run to catch my next flight. Atlanta is my least favorite airport in which to run. Imagine my surprise when Darrell hadn't yet closed the tech kiosk and, in about 4 minutes time, had me on my way with a new charger.

There was no place to plug in on flights in those days. And once in Indianapolis, I had a 90 minute drive to Bloomington ahead of me. I would arrive at about 1:30am.

Finally plugged in at 2am at the hotel on campus at Indiana University, I had a choice to make: Finish my previously planned presentation, or go with the new talk. I spent the next 2 hours polishing my new talk, which I gave on very little sleep.

That talk was six years ago this Thursday, and while the four cornerstones of that talk have not changed, the content has. I still give that talk today.

That talk launched the next phase of my career... the transition from presenter to speaker.

The difference to me looks something like this: Presenters give a personal context to someone else's content or ideas, while speakers use their own personal stories to provide context to their own ideas. As a presenter, my original ideas were buried. As a speaker, my original ideas are the star of the show. They are validated by the stories of my experiences of success and failure.

If you find that you're presenting based on the context of others' discoveries, I would encourage you to look deeper into your own success and failures. When you use your own stories, every talk is different.