“Earnestness” is a word that we neither hear much nor use much these days. That’s a shame, because the word captures much of what makes for an excellent presentation.

Edwin Dubois Shurter was a presenting master in the early 20th Century, and he said way back in 1903 that “Earnestness is the soul of oratory. It manifests itself in speech by animation, wide-awakeness, strength, force, power, as opposed to listlessness, timidity, half-heartedness, uncertainty, feebleness.”

What was true then is surely true today.  And yet, “earnestness” is frowned upon, perhaps, as somehow “uncool.” If you appear too interested in something, and then you somehow are perceived as having failed, then your presentation “defeat” is doubly ignominious. Better to pretend you don’t care.

Cool and Careless?

And so, the default student attitude is to affect an air of cool nonchalance, so that no defeat is too damaging. And you save your best – your earnestness – for something else. For your friends, for your sports contests, for your pizza discussions, for your intramural softball team . . .

But this also means that all of your presentation victories, should ever you score one or two, are necessarily small victories. Meager effort yields acceptable results in areas where only meager effort is required. Mediocrity is the province of the lazy and nonchalant. Shurter was a keen observer of presentations and he recognized the key role played by earnestness in a successful presentation: “When communicated to the audience, earnestness is, after all is said and done, the touchstone of success in public speaking, as it is in other things in life.”

Wrap your material in you.

This means giving a presentation that no one else can give, that no one else can copy . . . because it arises from your essence, your core. It means demonstrating genuine enthusiasm for your subject. It means recognizing that the subject of your presentation could be the love of someone else’s life, whether it be their business or their product or their service – you should make it yours when you present.

Embrace your topic and you will shine. Earnestness becomes second nature.