On 25 May, 1961, President Kennedy stood before congress and delivered his famous “man on the moon” speech which mobilised 180m American’s to be the first country to put a man on the moon.
Not all presentations you give to your clients or teams will have such a powerful message as this, but nevertheless; there are a number of lessons which you can apply to give your presentations more impact.
1. Be yourself
You should never try to mimic someone else’s style. You need to develop your own and be authentic. You cannot talk about issues of importance to your audience when they don’t believe in you. That is not to say you can’t learn from the great masters. You should study them and learn from them.
2. Make it Relevant
When Kennedy stood up to address Congress there was a single black and white image of the moon . Nothing could be quite so evocative a backdrop for such a presentation.
Start by talking about the situation the audience faces. You want them to start by agreeing with you so your message becomes easier to sell. Once you have their attention you can lead them wherever you want to take them.
Start where your audience is, not where you are. Start talking by broadly describing the situation they are facing, then move on to talk about what’s on their minds and the challenges they are facing.
3. Keep it Simple
Throughout his presidential campaign, President Obama kept his message simple – “change you can believe in” – which is not only simple, it’s easy to remember. You too can keep it simple, even if you have a complicated subject such as finance or engineering and involving large amounts of technical data.
What’s your core message? When you start preparing your presentation or speech you will no doubt have a number of messages. Keep chiselling away at them until you have a single core message.
Once you have achieved this, then all of the other ideas can hang off it.
Don’t confuse a complete message with a persuasive one. Just because you’re presenting doesn’t mean the audience will grant you all the time in the world to deliver your message. Audiences have limited attention spans and a limited ability to absorb complex data.
4. Anticipate what your audience is thinking
Be aware that when you express one view the audience will automatically associate an opposite or alternative aspects to it as well.
A presentation that does not deal with these alternatives loses the audience’s attention because it fails to address the questions and concerns that come up in people’s minds.
Therefore, you need to anticipate it. Show your audience that you understand the opposite view better than they do, and explain why your proposal or argument is still superior.
Taking an extract from the “man on the moon” speech we see the following:
“These are extraordinary times // And we face an extraordinary challenge // Our strength as well as our convictions have imposed upon this nation the role of leader in freedom’s cause // No role in history could be more difficult or more important // We stand for freedom // That is our conviction for ourselves-that is our only commitment to others // No friend, no neutral and no adversary should think otherwise // We are not against any man-or any nation-or any system-except as it is hostile to freedom // Nor am I here to present a new military doctrine, bearing any one name or aimed at any one area. I am here to promote the freedom doctrine. …//”
He pauses for impact, for us to catch up with him. Break up your messages into short sentences and mark up with // to show breathing marks and speak it in the same way. Speak as though you have plenty of time, but not so much that it looks like you’re filling time!!
6. Impact, Emphasis and Body Language
When presenting you need to be conscious of where your hands are and that they aren’t too distracting by waving about.
If standing in front of an audience but without the benefit of a lectern to hide behind, stand with your feet slightly apart and with equal balance on each leg. Then with you palms crossed facing up and just in front of you – as if you were holding an egg, this is your default position. It’s fine to move your hand or point for emphasis, just be conscious you aren’t doing it too much.
Finally, you’ll need to rehearse. Practice calmly walking up to the lectern or the front of the room. Pause for effect. Arrange your papers calmly. Look out to the audience with a sense of command and with assertiveness. Then deliver your opening remarks.
Calmness bestows a sense of authority. If you appear in control, you will in fact gain control and command attention.