Content structure and organization

7 Deadly Sins of Presentation Preparation

Have you ever found yourself sitting in the center seat of a packed auditorium—hemmed in on both sides by people and laptops—listening to a keynote speaker who is supposed to be imparting knowledge and wisdom, but instead is droning on and on? You want to run, but you can’t. So you endure what seems like torture.

You probably think this only happens in large university lecture halls, right? Not so. I’ve seen it at trade shows, association meetings, speaker forums, customer meetings, and yes, even at TED talks. One can only wonder what these speakers were thinking. How could they come to an event of such high caliber and not be prepared?

The funny thing is, if you ask them, they might tell you they spent a lot of time preparing, perhaps even over-preparing. Because the truth is that you can prepare and still not do well if you prepare incorrectly. In other words, not all preparation is the same.

Here is a list of the seven “sins” of poor presentations—all of which focus on the mistakes made when speakers prepare for their presentation incorrectly. Avoid committing these errors and you can give a stellar speech every time.

  1. Not having the right intention: In public speaking, as in every other worthwhile pursuit in life, intention is everything. If you don’t have a clear goal and objective for your speech, your audience will know it and become lost and confused … and most likely so will you. So set your intention, state the purpose of your presentation, and tell your audience what you hope your presentation will achieve for them.
  2. Not preparing your content before you prepare your PowerPoint™: Many people are in the habit of creating their slides before they create their full content, as if the PowerPoint slides are the end game instead of a useful, though limited, outline. They never take the next step to fully develop their message. That’s like building a house with a napkin drawing instead of a blueprint, and we all know how risky that can be. Take the time to fully develop your message first, and then create powerful visuals to accompany it.
  3. Not realizing that your content has two parts—message and structure: This is the tricky part for some presenters. Creating an interesting story line and developing an exciting topic complete with great examples, metaphors, and data comes naturally to some, but then taking the next step and forging that great content into a simple, easy-to-follow beginning, middle, and end structure is overlooked. Too much content without enough structure can leave the audience overwhelmed and perplexed.
  4. Not practicing your delivery ahead of time: Most people know better than to wing it in front of a large, high-stakes crowd, but there are plenty out there who think they have enough experience to stand up and speak with very little rehearsal. Every audience is unique and deserves your time and preparation. The best speakers practice out loud at least three times before every presentation they give.
  5. Not showing physical excitement and passion: Passion is an overused word when it comes to public speaking, but that’s because it is such a necessary component of a successful speech. You may feel plenty of real passion for your subject, but if you don’t practice showing it you will not be able to convince your audience that you mean it. Showing how you feel about your subject is just as important as knowing the details of what you are talking about.
  6. Not letting your voice be free: The human voice has the capacity to excite, stimulate, persuade, and inspire. Let your voice ring free of inhibitions by speaking with power, raising your pitch, using inflection, and exploiting dramatic pauses. The audience loves the music of the human voice, so make sure to let yours sing out and work for you.
  7. Not showing confidence and energy: There is the old adage that if you happen to be charismatically challenged you should “fake it until you make it.” That means even if you’re not “comfortable” performing with more vocal strength and physical action you must still do it. The audience depends on you to be lively and energetic during your presentation. They will forgive you if you try and fail, but they won’t forgive you if you don’t try at all. The more you practice, the easier this becomes. So take a chance at success and Come Alive!

When you prepare your presentation, be the saint and not the sinner! Use your knowledge of good presentation skills and prepare the correct way so that even those audience members stuck in the center of the crowd will stand up and cheer for you.

Please let me know what other preparation “sins” you would add to this list!

Add Context, Not Just Content, to Your Next Speech

While vacationing in Maine, my husband and I ventured to Lubec, Maine, the gateway to Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada—the once popular summer colony for wealthy Americans and Canadians, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt. On our way we stopped at Quoddy Headlight, the easternmost point in the U.S. And once on Campobello, we went to the East Quoddy Lighthouse.

Perched on an island and only accessible in low tide, the East Quoddy Lighthouse called to our adventurous spirit. We were eager to make the trip across the sandbar and climb the steps to the lighthouse. Although it’s dangerous and rugged, for two hours when the tide is out visitors can climb the steep metal ladders, walk on the ocean floor, cross two intermediate islands connected by a short wooden bridge, take a second steep ladder and then walk across a rocky, slippery seaweed covered intertidal zone to get to the lighthouse. We were ready for the adventure when we were warned that the tide had turned. Then we saw the sign:

DANGER!--TAKE NO RISKS & DO NOT LINGER! If you become stranded on the islands by the tide, WAIT FOR RESCUE. Even former keepers of this lighthouse have lost their lives by misjudging the STRONG, FRIGID, FAST-RISING tidal currents and TIDE-PRESSURIZED UNSTABLE PEBBLE OCEAN FLOOR while attempting to make this crossing.

At that moment, Geoffrey Chaucer’s famous saying, “Time and tide wait for no man,” took on a whole new meaning for me.

The tides in this part of the Bay of Fundy are 25 feet or more. We learned that further up the bay in Nova Scotia, the tidal changes can be more than 50 feet and most extreme when the moon is full. These are the largest tidal changes in the world. That’s a lot of water moving in and out twice a day, and it was clear that the tides were the backdrop for the entire way of life in this part of Maine.

We saw firsthand the dramatic changes in the tides. In Lubec, there are poles on the wharf that go up nearly 20 feet, taking the dock with it as the water rises and falls. Like clockwork, an hour before high tide a dozen or more seals, cormorants, gulls, and bald eagles arrive to feed on the fish brought in by the tide. Travelling to these places and witnessing the significance of the tidal changes first hand brought Chaucer’s quote to life. The facts were important, but seeing the facts in action was exhilarating!

This experience made me realize the importance of “context” in describing any situation. Until I saw the physical power of these dramatic tides, the phrase “Time and tide wait for no man” had little meaning to me. But now I get it. You can’t beat the tides. The sea will never bow to your will. And no matter how strong a swimmer you are, at 50 degrees the water is too cold, the rips too unpredictable, and the force of the water flow too overpowering.

I often counsel my clients to use stories, metaphors, anecdotes, and quotes—the rhetorical devices that create compelling imagery and add power to your presentations. However, it is absolutely essential to also provide the context in which the images reside.

To create effective presentations we often use phrases from our own experience, thinking that our audience fully understands the meaning. But they may not understand where we’re coming from. So our challenge as communicators is not only to come up with and deliver the clever anecdote, quote, or quip, but also to be successful in communicating the broader world from which it evolves. Yes, the facts of tidal changes were compelling, but then there was the DANGER sign, the rising and falling poles on the dock in Lubec, and the sea life feeding at the exact same time every day. These images bore witness.

Therefore, I encourage you to find those fascinating rhetorical gems and take the time to fully render them in context. Tell us more; make it come alive.

And now, I’ve gotta run. The lighthouse beckons, and the tide is coming in!

Whether on the 2012 Campaign Trail or in the Boardroom, Use Stories to Build Trust

Recently, President Obama admitted that his job as President is about more than just getting the policy right. As he put it, “The nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times." Well said, Mr. President! For years I’ve been telling business presenters that stories are essential to getting your message across. Whether speaking to a large group, as the President often does, or speaking to a small gathering of staff, telling a good story stimulates a strong emotional connection between you and the audience. Tell a story and you entertain. Tell a story and you connect. Tell a story and you build trust.

Stories play an important role in our everyday communication. They can bridge the gap that’s inherent in many types of presentations, from the lively motivational speech to the serious executive all-hands meeting to the dense technical demo presentation. In fact, we’ve all seen what can happen with the introduction of a story—a boring presentation will come alive!

If you want to persuade your listeners to your point of view, connect on a deeper level, and most of all build trust, telling stories is key. Here are a few simple tips to help enhance your storytelling.

  • Be yourself: You likely tell stories every day, and these are the stories that have the power to create a bond with your listeners. When you share a personal story, the distance between you and the audience dissolves. Stories show your vulnerability, which creates an opportunity for trust. As you tell a personal story, both you and the listener share a heightened emotional experience.
  • Build believable characters: Who are the heroes in your story? Take the time to develop characters who are appealing to you and your listener. Create characters by using the five senses (sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste), and explore emotional, practical or other aspects of the characters as well. Let your characters grow every time you tell the story so that they take on a life of their own.
  • Create a plot that sticks: What are the stories that you remember? You no doubt have your favorites; we all do. No matter how charming and well developed your characters, the plot is often the most memorable. Create a plot that has action and movement. Let your character face and overcome obstacles, teach lessons and inspire. When you develop a detailed plot line, your audience will never forget it.
  • Listen to the stories of others: You hear plenty of stories regularly—in your everyday business presentations; in community meetings; in political, cultural, and religious speeches; in entertainment and comedy; at social events; in the media. Write down every great story you hear so you have fresh material to draw from and learn more about content style and delivery.
  • The Power of Practice: Most people are not natural “stage” storytellers but are comfortable telling a story at the dinner table. That’s why it’s important to practice your platform stories before you go live. Write out and organize the flow of your story, and then practice your language, sentence structure, pacing and rhythm. Remember that timing is still everything when it comes to storytelling, so use silence to create dramatic, strategic and forceful pauses. Practice is the key to delivering a story that builds trust.

No matter what kind of presentations you give, take some advice from me and the President: use stories! Let them help you grab the attention and tug at the heartstrings of your audience. Let your stories ring out and you’ll connect with your listeners in a whole new way—a way that builds trust and respect that goes way beyond the podium.

Show Off Your PowerPoint Design Skills (and win some cool prizes too!)

Visual aids like PowerPoint are an important part of any business presentation. When done correctly, they strengthen your presentation by boosting audience understanding. In fact, research shows that listeners remember key messages conveyed with the help of visual aids more than six times better after a period of three days than they do messages that were simply presented verbally. The following visual helps put the numbers in perspective.

Retention After 3 Hours Retention After 3 Days

Tell only

70%

10%

Show only

72%

35%

Show and Tell

85%

65%

Do you want to show off your skills at creating effective PowerPoint slides? My friends at www.Presentation-Process.com are hosting a Creative Diagram Contest 2012. To win, all you have to do is create a visual presentation slide and tell them how you did it.

First, create Before & After Slides: Take a screenshot of a 'usual' slide. Makeover the slide with your most creative diagram idea in PowerPoint. Take a screenshot again. Write a few lines on how the diagram solves the issues with the 'usual' slide. Tell if your diagram can be used to represent any other business situation as well.

Next, create a short Tutorial (optional): Write a simple step-by-step tutorial for your diagram idea.

Finally, enter the contest: Fill in the contest entry form and upload your screenshot images. That's it!

Of course, your idea needs to be original. Their panel of judges (Ellen Finkelstein, Geetesh Bajaj, Wendy Russell, Dave Paradi, Elizabeth P. Markie, and Doug Serrano) will decide the final grand prize winners. You can also get your friends to vote on your submission and win the prize for the most popular entry.

The contest started Wednesday, May 23rd and runs until Wednesday, June 20th. You could win one of over a dozen prizes, including 750+ PowerPoint Charts & Diagrams (CEO Pack) or iSpringPro Professional PowerPoint to Flash Conversion. So get your creative ideas flowing and start designing. You could be the lucky grand prize winner! Get your entry form and full contest details here.

Part 1 of a Three-part Series: Got Platform?

Guest Blog Part 1 of a Three-part Series:Greenleaf Book Group is a publisher and distributor that specializes in the development of independent authors and the growth of small presses. Our publishing model was designed to support the independent author and to make it possible for writers to retain the rights to their work and still compete with the major publishing houses. Carly Willsie is an Assistant Consultant at Greenleaf where she handles the acquisitions process. In her current role, Carly reviews submissions for market viability and superior content, and works to identify books that will be great additions to Greenleaf’s respected line of titles. She also manages the Big Bad Book Blog and internal social media efforts.

The term “platform” is ubiquitous these days. We see it in the business world, hear it bandied about among authors, experts, and speakers, and experience it in the social media landscape. This phenomenon isn’t accidental. Platform is a powerful concept that reflects the content, brand, positioning, credibility, audience, and intellectual property you develop. Your platform lives at the intersection of ideas, influence, and income—and your book’s success depends on it.

In this three-part series, we’ll share valuable information and resources to help you create, maintain, and boost your platform. To learn more about Greenleaf Book Group’s platform development program, visit www.greenleafbookgroup.com/platformdevelopment.

Platform, Part 1: Ideas

Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk has appeared on everything from Ellen and CNN to NPR. He’s written two New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers. And he has amassed almost one million Twitter followers. One million! He grew his family wine business from $3 million in annual revenue to more than $45 million in eight short years. At age thirty-five, Vaynerchuk operates a slew of businesses and even boasts a gaggle of fans that refer to themselves as “Vayniacks.” In short, he’s a walking billboard for what a concentrated platform can do for you.

Becoming a mega-expert like Vaynerchuk sounds incredibly appealing and, for those just getting started, equally daunting. So let’s break down where you should begin. A strong platform starts with strong ideas. Ideas—the content you create—are your foundation; they’re a major reason people will talk about you. Ideas are a form of currency that translates into value for your audience, and the beauty is that that value can translate into money for you.

Building valuable content that an audience will care about enough to use, share with others and, ideally, purchase, depends on four components: (1) finding your passion; (2) knowing your audience; (3) choosing an effective content strategy; and (4) creating solid, new content on a regular basis. Let’s take a look at these to help kick-start your content conquest.

1.  Find your passion. It‘s essential that you care about your topic. If you’re not engaged, your audience certainly won’t be. So choose a meaningful topic that keeps you curious, one you spend a lot of time thinking, writing, and talking about. Ideally, you’ll be passionate in an area where you’re already credentialed. If you’re a fashion designer or marketer who loves fashion, there’s a golden opportunity to create content on the subject of fashion. If you’re a professional magician who wants to create a platform in the world of deep sea diving, you’ll have to work a lot harder than the Jacques Cousteau types who are already in the water. Take your passion and create content around it. Keep it simple, fun, and engaging, and always look for ways to make it remarkable.

2.  Know your audience. The content you create must match your audience’s needs and interests. Be sure to conduct a thorough audience analysis before you begin developing content and interacting. Create demographic and psychographic profiles. You need to know the answers to these questions:  

  • Who are they?
  • What do they do
  • What do they struggle with?
  • What do they care about?
  • Who else do they admire?

Knowing what your competitors bring to the table is essential, too. Remember, you must differentiate yourself, and you should focus on filling a hole in the field.

For example, Vaynerchuk had the foresight to realize that e-commerce would grow exponentially, and he started winelibrary.com in 1997. He also quickly identified an empty spot in the wine-tasting world—non-fluffy, honest feedback. He started     making video wine reviews and spoke to his audience on their level, using terms like “sniffy sniff” and “oakmonster.” His reviews were soon reaching over 100,000 viewers per day. He filled a need in the lofty world of wine collecting with excellent, informed content in a guy-next-door voice.

3.  Decide on a content strategy. With your passion and audience in your pocket, now you need to decide how you will present your content. Will you do it through blogging, infographics, videos, podcasts, presentations, webinars, articles, a book, or something else entirely? A mix of these is likely the most effective way to present your content, and as you craft that mix it’s important to track what your audience responds to. How do they learn best? And what works especially well for your content? You can also look at your competitors—what content strategies are they using effectively?

You also want to figure out your short- and long-term goals and pin down who will create your content. Do you want a blog with one weekly post, or do you want multiple posts per week? What about videos? Are you planning to create your own content? Or do you have a reliable assistant or support team that is in tune with your message and can do much of the heavy lifting for you? Your answer to these questions might depend on whether you’re creating a platform for yourself or your business (or whether your “self” is your business). If you are developing your personal platform, it’s important that fans feel like they’re interacting with the real you—not your personal assistant. As literary agent Rachelle Gardner writes on her blog, “It’s harder than ever to attract people to books. The way to do it is increasingly through personal connection, and that means YOU, the author, making connections with your readers.”

Vaynerchuk took the time each week to record himself on camera for his (recently-retired) video blog, “The Daily Grape.” He was being himself for his fans. And if you look at his Twitter feed, it’s a stream of responses to his followers. No wonder people feel connected to him—they are.

4.  Create solid, new content on a regular basis. Make a schedule for yourself and stick to it. An editorial calendar is not just for newspaper editors. It helps keeps you focused and productive, and can help you envision and manage your workload. The sooner you get started, the better. The Content Marketing Institute provides a guide to starting an editorial calendar, pointing out that the calendar not only keeps you on track—it helps you think of ways to repurpose your content as well.  Finally, be sure to keep up with new developments in your field. Once you’re perceived as an expert, you need to remain one. The members of your audience need to know they can depend on you, first and foremost, for new information and ideas. Make it happen through consistently great content.

When passion and good ideas connect with an audience need through a well-thought-out content strategy, great things can happen. Think of Vaynerchuk. He took what he knew and loved—wine—and spoke to his audience in a unique and casual way, through a medium they responded to—vlogging. 

Vaynerchuk’s success all started with his content, and yours will too. The more content you create over time, the more your ideas become the fuel that powers your brand platform.

Check in with us next week for part 2 of this series, in which we’ll take a look at influence—that is, how to spread your ideas through interaction with your audience.

Interested in getting a read on where you are in the development of your platform? Find out how you rank at MyExpertScore.com. It’s a free tool we’ve created to help you measure your current status by giving you a personal expert score. One you finish the test, we’ll give you additional strategies to take you to the next level. Give the test a try, and feel free to get back to us with any feedback!

Keys to Developing Presentation Content for Women

No matter what industry you’re in or what type of presentations you give, chances are you have women in your audience. With 69% of American women in the workforce, the female presence in business is everywhere. Women give and listen to presentations, make buying decisions, lead groups to action, and influence companies worldwide. Therefore, to successfully present to this powerful audience segment, you need to know how to relate to women in every presentation you give. As a public speaking coach and owner of a presentation skills training company, I give and listen to presentations every day. So I have a unique perspective on this topic. I know what works from a technical standpoint, and I know what works from a audience standpoint. To that end, I offer these three tips for developing your content for a female audience. (Note: while these suggestions apply universally—to both men and women—the tips highlighted have a higher receptivity in women).

1. Women appreciate and respond well to stories.

It’s no secret that women love a good story. No wonder 55% of all fiction books sold are to women. Knowing this, it’s surprising how many presentations I hear that are overloaded with facts, statistics, and dry information—with no stories whatsoever.

To connect with the women in your audience, stories are a must. Realize that not every story has to be about you or your company. You can use stories that are in the public domain or stories you’ve heard from others. You can also use metaphors and analogies that relate to things women typically respond to, like family, food, or travel. As long as the point of the story builds upon or relates to your topic, it’s a valid story to use. So as you plan your content, make sure you focus on stories as often as you focus on facts.

2. Women want to participate and feel involved.  

Women enjoy feeling a part of the group. Women yearn for inclusion, for connections, and for relationships. Therefore, find opportunities to create ways for women to get involved in your presentation. You can suggest a “pair and share” activity, ask rhetorical questions, organize a group activity, or simply elicit feedback often.

The key, however, is to really want and value the involvement. Simply garnering participation at key points in your presentation but not making that participation meaningful to the experience, or not using or validating the information that is offered, sends the message that you really don’t care. So gain involvement and use what’s been offered. Your message will resonate stronger with your female audience if they feel they had a part in shaping it.

3. Women are keen to visual images.

Visual images are important for any presentation. In my experience, women respond to visuals that are more integrated, complex, and open to interpretation.  Unlike stereotypical visual concepts, such as men like images that are hard, sleek, and cold, and women like images that are soft, fuzzy, and warm. Women enjoy and are stimulated by images that are more subtle and less prescribed.  

One example of this is the Andrew Wyeth painting Christina’s World. In it, a woman is lying in a field, looking at a house. The painting’s message is not definitive. The woman depicted could represent someone distraught, forlorn, or forgotten. Or she could be hopefully reaching toward home—to that place of belonging and family love. Or she could have simply tripped and fallen. Paintings like this carry a degree of complexity and uncertainty that force people to interpret the image based on their own experiences. Women are comfortable with that complexity where there are multiple interpretations—no right or wrong. So to create powerful visual content for women, choose images that evoke a story.

Stories, participation, and powerful images – these are the three factors that are important for any presentation, but are especially so for a female audience. Keep these concepts in mind as you plan your next presentation and you’ll be one step closer to connecting your message with this powerful segment of the business community.

This blog is part of my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature stories, resources and information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please enjoy these weekly Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life.

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The End of PowerPoint?

I recently read a Fast Company blog about a new political party in Switzerland that wants to make PowerPoint illegal. The Anti-PowerPoint Party (APPP) is a new movement formed by Matthias Poehm, a professional public speaker in Switzerland. His goal is to “influence the public to put a stop to the phenomenon of idle time in the economy, industry, research and educational institutions.” To do that, he’s focusing on eliminating PowerPoint entirely. While this sounds like a bad skit from Saturday Night Live, apparently the APPP is gaining momentum. And while Poehm is making the assault on PowerPoint the focus of his platform, he states that he’s really targeting all presentation software.

So what does Poehm have against PowerPoint? His party has done studies on presentation effectiveness, and they’ve found that 85% of participants in meetings think software-based presentations are “killing motivation.” That’s why he wants to get enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot in Switzerland to outlaw the tool.

I admit that I’ve seen my share of bad PowerPoint presentations. I’m sure you’ve seen them too: slides filled with wordy sentences in teeny font, no design elements, mixed templates, mutli-layered and complex graphs and charts…it’s enough to make anyone hate PowerPoint.

But if PowerPoint is banned, what’s a speaker to use? Poehm’s suggestion: Flipcharts! While I agree that flipcharts have their place in presentations, to have flipcharts as a presenter’s sole tool may be just as bad as using poorly constructed PowerPoint slides. So rather than outlaw PowerPoint, maybe we should first focus on educating people on how to use it effectively. After all, the tool itself isn’t bad; it’s just the poor application of the tool that gives it a bad name.

Knowing this, here are a few top PowerPoint tips.

1. Prepare your material before you design your slides: Content development should always come before slide design. Therefore, brainstorm, create, organize and structure your message, and then develop your slides. This simple change of behavior will put PowerPoint where it should be—as a visual aid.

2. Create three separate documents: PowerPoint can’t be all things to all people. That’s why your speaker notes, handouts and PowerPoint slide deck should be three separate entities. Yes, this takes extra time, more organization and a bit more work, but no one said that preparing to give a great presentation was easy!

3. Design a slide deck geared for knowledge transfer: Add pictures, charts, graphs, learning models, audio and video clips and other rich images to keep your audience stimulated and engaged. Visuals are vital to knowledge transfer.

4. Consider the power of staging: Your audience relishes design, symmetry, and powerful and pleasing images. And they also need you to be as polished as your PowerPoint. Therefore, a few simple staging techniques, like making sure that your body shadows don’t block the screen, facing front and using pointers effectively, will help you feel and be more professional and more engaging.

5. Memorize your transitions: Develop, refine and memorize your transitions so that you move from slide to slide with grace and ease. Avoid the distracting behavior of constantly looking over your shoulder to see what slide is coming next.

6. Don’t read your slides: The slide is there to enhance your message and to give the audience a visual stimulus that keeps them engaged so you can pour your knowledge into their heads. You are the message and the messenger. Take heed.

The sooner everyone masters these points, the better our chances of preventing the Anti-PowerPoint Party from establishing roots here. I can’t believe I’m saying this...long live PowerPoint!

The Key Factor for Your Presentation’s Success

When you’re preparing a presentation, who is the most important person you need to consider? The answer: Your audience. You’ve likely experienced, at least once in your career, what happens when you forget about your audience. Here’s the scenario: You create the perfect presentation complete with solid transitions, compelling visuals, and stellar numbers. You have great jokes planned and practice every element of your speech. Yet, as you stand in front of your listeners and talk, your message isn’t garnering any interest. You know you’re crashing fast. While you may have prepared incessantly before you went to the front of the room, you forgot about the one critical element to your presentation—your audience.

If you forget your audience, your presentation can backfire. That’s why knowing the details about them is critical for your success.

For example, Andrew Winston is a well-known consultant who is dedicated to helping companies grow and flourish by utilizing green environmental strategies. He speaks across the globe to varied audiences. As such, Winston is a master at crafting his presentation to match the needs of his diverse audience. 

Winston speaks to audiences of adoring fans, sustainability conference attendees, and even lumberjacks and loggers. Do you think he takes the risk of delivering the same speech to each unique audience? Of course not! The brilliance of Winston is his ability to deliver a compelling presentation every time he speaks because he caters to the specific needs of each audience. When he is in front of his fans, he is bold, controversial, and risk taking. However, when he is in front of an audience of skeptics, he eliminates the controversial pieces and engages with the audience on a personal level.

As a presenter, you must get your audience on your side. If the people in front of you want numbers, give them numbers; if they want jokes, give them jokes. However, if you don’t take the time to analyze what would best suit your audience, your presentation will fall flat no matter how much you prepare. 

Therefore, before you begin crafting your speech, know who you are going to be standing in front of. Will you be amongst your cheering, loving fans? Or a caustic, skeptical group of dissenters? Make sure you are prepared to speak to the hearts and minds of the crowd in front of you!

Winning the Future: Reflections on President Obama’s State of the Union Address

I love the pomp and circumstance of the State of the Union address. Anytime our leaders gather together to celebrate our history and our future, I am moved and inspired. I was especially so last night as I watched President Obama take control of the podium and deliver a well-structured speech that reiterated for all of us our unique and inspiring history. In his “story of ordinary people who dare to dream,” he was included, as was Joe Biden and John Boehner. From the moment he walked down the aisle and silenced the applauding crowd, I was (as I always am) struck by his easy charisma and presidential stature. He carries himself with confidence and certainty.  He is a leader who is so much in charge that he’s not afraid to set limits or to compromise. Either position is within his reach to use when required. He demonstrated this range last night as he moved nimbly from softness to seriousness.

Of course, the response to his speech from pundits and the American public was mixed. A CBS News poll of speech watchers, which was conducted online by Knowledge Networks immediately after the president’s address, showed that 91 percent of those who watched the speech approved of the proposals President Obama put forth during his remarks. Only nine percent disapproved. Despite that, some pundits claimed the speech missed the mark, even saying, “The speech is a mathematical riddle that can’t be solved.” (If anyone understands what that means, please let me know.)

I’m not a domestic or foreign policy expert, nor am I a political commentator. So I won’t comment on the proposals and ideas the president put forth. I am, however, a citizen, a speech coach, and a communication expert. And as far as I am concerned, President Obama captured my attention as he stepped into the rhythm of the Connection Loop and engaged us with his usual accessible style and well-structured message.

In fact, it was a beautifully sculpted speech. He told stories, used data, quoted others, asked rhetorical questions, asked for our involvement, used humor, used metaphors, and in general, used the rule of three to capture our attention, build his case, and inspire us to act. For example, after his opening remarks, he laid out his three point agenda: Innovation, education, and infrastructure by saying, “We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” Likewise, while laying out his agenda for the year and the challenge to the leadership, he asked everyone “to step up, work together, and make it happen.”

He also gave us some highly quotable moments and phrases that are sure to become part of our public domain database. Some highlights that struck me were:

  • “What comes of this moment is not whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.”
  • “The future is ours to win”
  • “We do big things.”
  • “Innovation doesn’t just change our lives; it is how we make our living.”
  • “It’s not just the winner of the super bowl that should be celebrated; it’s the winner of the science fair.”
  • “If you want to make a difference, become a teacher. Your nation needs you!”
  • “Connecting every part of America to the digital age.”

Throughout the speech was his underlying constant rhythm of optimism. Yes, this was an uplifting speech—a speech that said in a completely new way, “Yes We Can.”

No matter what side of the political spectrum you adhere to, no one can deny that President Obama is a masterful presenter—someone who not only comes alive before an audience, but also someone who engages the hearts and minds of his listeners. So even if you don’t want to be the leader of the free world, but simply the leader in your industry or topic, then observe and listen to the president’s speech. He is definitely someone all presenters should watch and emulate.