Advice To Power Every Presentation
What is the secret to Frank Sinatra's phenomenal success as a singer? Why was President Abraham Lincoln able to lead a young American nation through a crisis that threatened its very existence? How does a young talk show host from Chicago named Oprah Winfrey go on to reach the pinnacle of television?
These are just some of the extraordinary people who help presentations coach Jerry Weissman illustrate the secrets of powerful presentations in his new book, Presentations in Action. While the subject of presentations is linked in most people's minds to PowerPoints and charts, Weissman shows in this compilation of 80 examples that any attempt to effectively connect with an audience is, at its core, a presentation. Even the Gettysburg Address was essentially a presentation.
Beyond the Gettysburg Address
While Lincoln's crowning oratory achievement is undoubtedly his famous address delivered at Gettysburg, Weissman focuses on Lincoln's first inaugural address to demonstrate the care with which Lincoln always chose his words.
Weissman draws three lessons from Lincoln's inaugural address: clarity, ownership, and value added. Too many presentations ramble on with convoluted sentences that "wend their way into the weeds," he writes. "Speak in crisp, clear and brief phrases. Make your points and move on." Presenters must also take ownership of the presentation, he says. Even if you have a speechwriter, be involved in the development of the content. Finally, find supporting information beyond your own knowledge to add value to the presentation. Lincoln was diligent in finding facts to support his words.
The Music Comes Second
Weissman draws from a wide variety of disciplines for inspiration. Sinatra, for example, offers a lesson in the phrasing of words. Sinatra is quoted by Weissman speaking, surprisingly, on the primacy of words over music. "Not belittling the music, but it really is a backdrop," Sinatra says. "To convey the meaning of a song, you need to look at the lyric and understand."
It is Sinatra's legendary creative phrasing that is at the heart of his incredible talent, Weissman writes. He describes, for example, how Sinatra rearranged the original smooth phrasing of the Oscar-winning song "The Way You Look Tonight" to create his classic jazzy upbeat interpretation. Presenters should pay equal attention to their cadence by recording the speech and then listening for problems. "Are you rambling or choppy?" Weissman writes. "Do you race? Do you use 'ums' or 'ahs'?"
Not every chapter tells a story — many of the chapters are straightforward pieces of advice. Winfrey's success, for example, can be attributed to what Weissman calls her seven habits of a highly effective television superstar: be conversational, interact, make eye contact, present seated (not standing), keep a good posture, use natural gestures and smile.
Without fail, readers will find in each of these 80 short chapters a solid, applicable lesson that will strengthen their presentation skills. For example, when an editor asked Mark Twain for a two-page short story in two days, the author responded that in two days he could only write a 30-page story — to write a two-page story he would need 30 days. The lesson: it's often easier to be wordy than to convey your message succinctly. Conveying a lifetime of presentations coaching experience into a few short hours of reading, Presentations in Action is itself an illustration of how brief can be better.