Ctrl, Alt, Del: time to reboot your presenting style?

Spring is in the air; the time of spring-cleaning, de-cluttering, fresh starts. If you give presentations, or make speeches, this is a great time to think about freshening-up the stuff you have grown comfortable with, maybe even deleting some old habits and trying out some alternative ideas.

Maybe it’s time for you to hit Ctrl, Alt, Del… time for a reboot.

I wish I could claim the idea as my own, but it comes from a guy called Bill Esteb. I learned about Bill this week from a friend of mine, a chiropractor, who is organizing a conference aimed at encouraging chiropractors to take a fresh look at the way they do business. Bill will be the keynote speaker.

Here’s my speaker-oriented take on Ctrl, Alt, Del.


Where could you exercise more control over your content? A lot of speakers could improve their presentations simply by controlling their ambition – and by that I mean not squeezing too much material into their allotted time. Define your controlling idea, let that guide the content, and resist the temptation to include other material that might be interesting but is not essential to the controlling idea.

Exercise more control over the length of your presentation. Don’t get a reputation for consistently going long. Reading a speech out loud, to an audience, will always take much longer than mumbling it to yourself in a rehearsal. You don’t want to have to ditch important content or rush through your conclusion just because you are running out of time.

Control everything that relates to your content. Early in my career I was speaking to about 300 business women on a very specific topic that the organizers wanted. I let the convention organizers write my introduction. Imagine my horror when the introducer assured me I would speak about an incident from my past. The introducer had read about the incident in my bio. Trouble was, I had no intention of recounting that particular anecdote. It wasn’t relevant. I got away with it, by editing my presentation on the fly to include a brief reference to the incident. But I learned a big lesson: control your content… and that includes controlling what’s said by someone else by way of an introduction.


Is it time to look for alternative ways of presenting your content? Alt is all about thinking out-of-the-box, doing things differently. Maybe you have a deck of slides that you like. Ask yourself if it’s time to freshen them up. You could just change the font, or the colour – or you could step outside of your comfort zone and substitute photographs or videos for some of the text slides. Do you even need slides? Is there a radical alternative? What would really get the audience engaged with your topic? 

Whatever the occasion, how do you honour it best? When my friend make-up artist and fashion consultant Audrey Parker died the speaker asked anyone who had their makeup done by Audrey to stand up and stay standing. Then the speaker asked anyone who had their wardrobe revamped by Audrey to stand and stay standing. Had anyone had shopping advice from Audrey? Within a few minutes just about everyone in the room was standing. And laughing. It was magic moment that showed very tangibly the influence of one life on so many others.


Delete is probably the easiest place to start the reboot process. Start by deleting all those words that really aren’t doing any heavy lifting in your speech or presentation. Strip out every word that’s not earning its keep, and you make your speech stronger. The more empty words you take out, the easier it will be for your audience to comprehend your message.

Delete those cheesy slideshow effects that have words shimmering or exploding or turning cartwheels across the screen.

Delete the stories that used to be so effective but now are simply tired. Go on a story hunt. Find some new stories and anecdotes to bring your presentations to life. 

And how about your body language? Are there any mannerisms that need to be brushed away in this spring clean? Have a little out-of-body experience. Imagine you are in the audience, looking back at you presenting. What do you see? Open, welcoming gestures, or crossed arms and hesitant movements? Do you see good strong eye contact, or a presenter looking at notes more than the audience? Are there any nervous tics that need to be eliminated?

As Bill Esteb says, “Examine what we can Ctrl and not Ctrl, some Alt ways of looking at our challenges and Del what we can eliminate or simplify. Let’s rethink the classic notion that success comes from putting our heads down and bulldozing. Let’s make a ruckus by doing less and being more.”

As speakers, we all get stale after a while. We bring out the same old stories, the same theories, the same old debates…. maybe even the same text-heavy slides. Time for a reboot.