Ranging from finance to pharmaceuticals and aerospace to automotive our clients often present a similar opening challenge to us with each enquiry:
“Our work is very technical and complex to explain so it is important to ensure that we are able to simplify our message and communicate it clearly to someone who has no previous knowledge on….”
We get it, every business is unique.
President Obama is one of my personal favourite speakers. I would go as far as to suggest he is one of the most gifted orators in the world today and puts everything into perspective for us. The leader of one of the most powerful nations on earth arguably has the most onerous job on the planet when it comes to complexity yet he knows exactly how to simplify his message.
Addressing millions of people in his State of the Union Speech last week speaking about the economy, criminal justice, education, energy and climate change amongst a whole host of other complex topics has to be one of the most difficult speeches anyone has to make.
However technical you believe your next presentation may be here are eight potent lessons we can take from President Obama’s 2016 State of The Union Address:
Whether you agree with his political views or not it’s quite easy to see that each time Obama speaks you hear a passionate leader show how much he cares about his country. Whilst he may have given a politician’s speech he spoke in a manner that anyone could understand regardless of their interest in politics or depth of knowledge on any of the topics he covered.
Authenticity isn’t something you rehearse, it’s an intention.
It’s where you commit to being open as though you are having a conversation with people you like and trust so that you connect with them. It isn’t something you can teach, it’s a promise to be who we really are rather than who we think our audience wants us to be.
It’s quite rare to hear any speaker mention their own failures let alone a president of one of the most powerful nations on earth. It takes a high degree of emotional intelligence, courage and humility:
“That’s one of the few regrets of my presidency, that our politics have become even more filled with rancor, that we are further divided than when I came to office.”
When it comes to public speaking and presenting one of the greatest gifts you can give your audience is to show them you are just like them, fallible. It’s easy to sense humility in a speaker because they put their focus entirely on their audience and not themselves.
They don’t talk themselves up because they know that no one in the audience is expecting perfection from them. They know that they have the platform to add value and make a difference not to impress.
Presenting is never simply about sharing the facts after all you can do that just as easily in a document or an email. It’s about sharing the story behind the facts and the relevance to your message. The key distinction between the spoken and written word is the emotional connection.
This was a story of optimism told through moments of drama, conflict, hope and vision.
Every great presentation is a story which takes us on a journey of exploration and fulfilment.
Storytelling is one of a speaker’s greatest tools because it stimulates a sense of curiosity, anticipation and change and can make your audience care.
4. Rule Breaking
All good presenters are familiar with ‘the rule of three’ which simply stated suggests that people are more likely to remember three things. President Obama often uses the technique himself but this time his story revolved around four important points.
Whilst three is good, as you will see from the video it’s not really the number that’s important but the objective and intention:
“So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that I believe we as a country have to answer — regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress.”
Many people fear speaking in public because it conjures up an image of conformity; sticking to the rules of what a great speaker does. There simply are no rules when it comes to presenting and speaking in public as it is about authenticity, passion and the courage to do whatever it takes to connect with your audience.
It’s not about being polished and perfect.
It’s naïve to believe that you can craft and deliver a powerful presentation without a mindfully robust and relevant structure. Passion alone isn’t enough when it comes to presenting with impact.
The richness of your content and the way it is structured is of critical importance.
In this speech President Obama’s roadmap looks like this:
Having a clear and simple structure to your presentation allows:
– Your audience to easily follow you to absorb and remember your message.
– You to be better prepared and less stressed.
– You to establish a clear purpose for your talk and your audience to focus on that purpose.
One of the many exciting things about being alive today is that we are surrounded by a history of thousands of years of wisdom, accomplishment and brilliance. When we are trying to connect with and influence others its arrogant to think we have all of the answers.
As a speaker you can enhance your own credibility considerably by quoting the experience and achievements of others. President Obama does this several times in a very thought provoking way:
“We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the ‘dogmas of the quiet past.’ Instead we thought anew, and acted anew.”
A relevant quote which adds credibility to your point can be extremely powerful. It can reinforce your point, demonstrate your level of knowledge and preparation and most importantly help to make your presentation more memorable.
A great number of presentations feel rushed, almost as though the speaker has something to say and can’t wait to get it over with.
In my view Obama is the master of pace and pause.
His mindful delivery of his message is seamless in that you don’t feel as though he is presenting or lecturing but simply having a conversation.
As you will see his entire speech is delivered at a pace which says he cares about what he is saying and he is thinking about his every word, not reading a script. Pace is one of the most important elements of an effective presentation as if you speak to fast you may lose your audience and speaking to slow may send them to sleep.
The key is variety.
Most presentations are based on sharing facts, data and information designed to influence and inspire change which is never enough on its own. A great way to bring your presentation to life and clarify your message is by giving your audience real examples that they can understand and relate to.
This is another of Obama’s rhetorical skills as you can see in his State of the Union speech:
“‘We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private sector job creation in history. More than 14 million new jobs, the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s, an unemployment rate cut in half. Our auto industry just had its best year ever. That’s just part of a manufacturing surge that’s created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years.”
Every business is unique with its own story to tell and regardless of our product or service I’m sure we can agree that leading a nation must rank amongst the most technical and complex.
Whether you are speaking about quantum physics, anatomy or thermodynamics your presentation really is only as complex as you choose to make it.
Watch the video here:
Image: Courtesy of flickr.com
I always reinforce the idea behind the structure (I like the idea of the rule of three you mention). It is important presenters prepare the structure of their presentation and adapt it according their audience. In the following post I we elaborate the idea behind structure and present additional examples.
The curious reader can try to create new speeches with this structure, or try the exercise of adapting existing speeches to new structures.