Just Words? How to craft a great presentation
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” – Ronald Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, June 12, 1987
“We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.” Winston Churchill in a message to the House of Commons and the British People June 4, 1940.
“With confidence in our armed forces – with the unbounding determination of our people – we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God!” Franklin Delano Roosevelt, December 8, 1941.
“……rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation… great beacon of light…palace of justice… seared in the flames of withering injustice…fierce urgency of now… I have a dream!” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Washington D.C., August 1963
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” John F. Kennedy at his presidential inauguration, January 1961
Just words? Hardly. These are carefully crafted messages, delivered with passion and powerful speech dynamics. They are a call to action; and all produced their intended results.
Winston Churchill inspired his tiny island nation to persevere in the face of the German aerial onslaught, and with the aid of a steady flow of war materiel, food, and fuel across the Atlantic, went on to eventual victory in World War II.
Ronald Reagan called for the demolition of the Berlin wall, something unthinkable since it went up in 1961. But Reagan had a vision and used words to convey that vision. Barely two and a half years after his famous pronouncement, the wall opened and ultimately came down starting in June 1990.
Martin Luther King Jr., called for an end to segregation in his most famous speech delivered on the capital mall in 1963. The Civil Rights Act was passed the following year and the Civil Rights Voting Act the following year in 1965.
President John F. Kennedy put the world and the Soviets on notice that the United States would stand to ensure freedom. This pronouncement came eight years after Communist forces invaded South Korea from the north, and less than four years after Soviet tanks rolled into Hungary to crush a call for freedom there.
Reagan was direct and to the point. There could be no misinterpretation of his message to Gorbachev.
Churchill was inspirational. “We shall fight… We shall fight… We shall fight… We shall never surrender.” Hard to miss the point on that one.
Dr. King was more than just eloquent. He used visual imagery to reinforce his message throughout his speech that was heard by millions and is recited by school children even today. It wasn’t just a subtle reminder that we should put an end to segregation; rather we should all RISE from the DARK and DESOLATE valley of segregation. The call became a beacon of light (leading to) a palace of justice. It wasn’t merely the fact segregation was wrong, but that is was SEARED in the flames of WITHERING injustice. And he didn’t say we should eventually get around to it; he called it “the fierce urgency of now.” Finally he didn’t merely say he had a pretty good idea, rather “I have a dream.” A key message he reiterated 14 times in his famous speech.
John Kennedy wasted no words in his oratory. Like Reagan, he was a true communicator, leaving no room for any misunderstanding as to his meaning or intent. He loved short speeches, short clauses, short words, with everything in a logical order. He also used alliteration, “pay any price, bear any burden…” His goal was to communicate, to be understood. And Kennedy, with the help of Theodore Sorenson, one of the greatest speech writers of the century, and using tremendous speech dynamics with the emphasis on just the right words, applying the right inflection and timed pauses, left no doubt to his message – that a new generation of Americans would “assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
While your presentations may not assure the success of liberty, or put an end to state-sponsored suppression of freedom, your words, and the speech dynamics you employ in your delivery can have a tremendous impact. Whether it’s a presentation to colleagues in a staff meeting, or the city council, whether your comments are before a board of supervisors or the board of directors, your presentations can be informative, inspirational, and a powerful call to action.
Michael Drake is a presentation skills trainer who has helped more than 4,000 individuals improve their communications skills.
Make Sure You Are Understood – Public Speaking Tips
It’s one thing to be a subject matter expert (SME) in a particular field and able to discuss it with colleagues; it’s quite another to communicate that subject matter to someone who does not have your background or professional expertise in that particular area and have them fully comprehend what you are talking about.
In every field of interest there is jargon, and typically a fair number of acronyms; we use them every day. I sometimes think the military could not function without its acronyms.
In the world of film and video production the juicer (electrician) may get a stinger (extension cord) so the grips (production hands) can set 5-K (large production light) and a baby or a tweenie on a Gary Coleman (small lights on a small C-stand) in front of the pancake or half-apple (a small wooden box the talent or actor stands on) to get the martini (last shot) before magic hour (when outdoor light turns golden, usually about 20 minutes before sunset). Clear?
Television news stories could be a package, a VO-SOT, a live-shot, or even a look-live. Everyone get that? Unless you’ve worked in television news, probably not. The “voh-sot” (VO-) is the voice-over – the narrative the anchor reads over the video (B-roll) of the story, which then cuts to the sound-on-tape (-SOT), the full audio and video of the person being interviewed on camera. As a reporter we would also do a lock-out – the sign-off at the end of the story. I’m Michael Drake, for Channel (whatever) News. Yet mention lock-out to a regular person and they will think you lost your keys and cannot get into your car.
It’s the same when making a presentation to an audience not not entirely familiar with what you do or how you do it. It’s especially true with making a presentation to the general public. Many or even most of your audience may get it. But it’s never a bad idea to clarify for those who do not. If you use an acronym, quickly explain what it is. “So as a reporter, I would do the lock-out at the end of the story – that is, the sign-off. I’m Michael Drake for Channel 3 News.” Many in your audience may already know what you are talking about. For the others who do not, your clarification will be most appreciated. And it takes but a second or two.
Remember in any presentation, whether before staff, the board of directors, or the general public – your goal is to communicate – to be understood.
Michael Drake is a speech coach and presentation skills trainer who has given presentations to audiences ranging from 20 to 2,500 and has helped more than 4,000 individuals from a cross section of business and government improve their communications skills and overcome their fear of public speaking.
The Presentation Destination – Public Speaking Tips
All too often, unless they have been in my presentation training class before, I get something very generic, “Oh, it’s about our new program.”
This is like saying your presentation is about the Pacific Ocean. What? It’s blue; it’s deep; it separates North America from Asia? What?
Before making any presentation, you should be able to summarize what it’s about in one or two sentences. This could be the specific information you are presenting or even your call to action.
“This presentation is about how our new widgets manufacturing program, how it will increase production by 20 percent and save our company $17 million in the first year.”
“My presentation is to inform the board about the new zoning amendment. The proposed amendment will comply with the new general plan, will allow development adjacent to the transportation corridors, and will set aside 500 acres for outdoor natural preserves and hiking trails. Thus they should approve it as presented.”
This, if you haven’t already noticed, is typically the conclusion of your presentation – your presentation destination. It’s where you want to take the audience. It’s also your starting point – the first thing you write and what you keep at the forefront of your mind while preparing your presentation.
As the old saying goes, and as Columbus discovered, “if you don’t know where you are going, you will end up somewhere else.”
Always have a clearly defined objective in your presentation. It will keep you on track and keep your audience continually moving toward that final presentation destination.
Michael Drake is a professional narrator with many years of formal training in voice and speech, a speech coach and presentation skills trainer, and an accomplished public speaker having given presentations to groups ranging from 20 to 2500. He has coached business executives, government and elected officials, and military leadership helping them improve their presentation skills and overcome their fear of public speaking for more than two decades. Contact Michael.
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