How to give a great presentation: By Jim Comer
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
“… a thousand points of light.”
Most Americans know that Franklin D. Roosevelt, John Kennedy and George Bush uttered those celebrated lines. Few realize that Sam Rosenman, Ted Sorenson and Peggy Noonan wrote them. While speech writers may not get the credit, they get heard, quoted, and paid!
For 16 years, I’ve written speeches and coached speakers from New York to Los Angeles to Austin. I’ve done keynotes, a monologue for Bob Hope, motivational talks, sales pitches, commencement addresses, wedding toasts, and eulogies. Along the way, I’ve made my share of mistakes and learned some painful lessons.
For those of you who may be faced with crafting an audit presentation, I’ve distilled my experience into nine presentation basics. No matter what the occasion, I’ve found these 9 principles apply.
How to give a great presentation tip #1. Make two points well, not eight points badly.
Too many auditors treat presentations and audit reports like laundry lists. They feel they must make at least eight points and show 40 slides or they haven’t done their job. In trying to say everything, they often say nothing at all.
If you doubt me, consider the last speech or sermon you heard. Can you remember two of the speaker’s points? Okay, how about one? Speech writers must help the speaker make hard choices and focus on a limited number of messages.
How to give a great presentation tip #2. Connect with the audience up front.
Speeches are not primarily about information or facts. They are not a showcase for charts or a display case for bullet points. That’s why God created handouts. The best speeches are about creating a positive feeling and connecting it to the idea, cause, or company the speaker represents.
Ronald Reagan understood the importance of connecting with an audience as well as anyone who ever occupied the Oval Office. He once invested the first six minutes of the State of the Union address in kidding himself and the leadership of Congress. By the time he got to the point of his speech, the audience was primed and ready to listen.
How to give a great presentation tip #3. Illuminate your points with stories and anecdotes.
From Abraham Lincoln to Ann Richards, great speakers tell stories that connect with the audience on a personal level. Audit results can be very dry, so it is imperative that auditors include stories that communicate a sense of humor and humanity during their presentations. The right anecdote can bring an otherwise dry point to life and help the listener remember it an hour—or a year—later.
How to give a great presentation tip #4. Write for the ear, not for the eye.
Keep sentences short. Unless you are William Buckley, never use a 25-cent word when a 10-cent word will do. Even if you audit for a high-tech organization like Google or the military, avoid jargon, acronyms, and high-tech catch phrases. A speech should sound like the person giving it, not an IT manual. Do not use words, expressions or references that the speaker wouldn’t normally use. Employ his or her speaking rhythm, not your own.
How to give a great presentation tip #5. Acknowledge the obvious.
No written line is more powerful than an unscripted spontaneous moment.
Use whatever is going on in the room and the world. It’s essential to respond to the unexpected immediately. For example, if a dog wanders into the hall, every eye in the audience will soon be on the pooch. Only when the speaker acknowledges the presence of the canine intruder—and have some fun with it—can he or she move on with the rest of the speech.
How to give a great presentation tip #6. Impose the Mama Comer test.
If the presentation is for an audience with varying skill levels and experience, ask yourself if your parents would understand it. My mom is a retired third grade teacher with common sense to spare. I know if she gets it, America will get it. If she doesn’t, neither will many in the audience—and that means the speaker is in trouble.
How to give a great presentation tip #7. Don’t tell jokes unless you are a celebrated joke-teller.
Most people don’t tell jokes well and shouldn’t try. Even if the joke works, it doesn’t tell the audience anything about the speakers—except, perhaps, his level of taste.
In this age of hypersensitive political correctness, even the best-intended joke may backfire. If you have a question about taste, always err on the side of caution. You can’t get in trouble for what you didn’t say. When in doubt, don’t.
How to give a great presentation tip #8. Don’t hide behind slides.
Slides are not a sexy medium. No one ever left a presentation saying, “Man, those slides were good!” In my experience, PowerPoint has caused more people to fall asleep than prescription drugs.
Slides should be used as audio-visual jalapenos. They are there to support the speaker, not replace her. Above all, slides should be easy to read—they should not make those over 40 have to squint or crane their necks.
How to give a great presentation tip #9. Practice, practice, practice.
Even the greatest speech won’t work if it’s not well delivered. For instance, imagine Bullwinkle giving the Gettysburg Address.
While many executives would rather give blood than go over their speeches, rehearsal should not be optional. Remind speakers that Winston Churchill practiced his major speeches out loud for 10 to 12 hours before delivering them. If one of the greatest orators of the 20th century was willing to rehearse, it might be a good idea for the rest of us.
For more wisdom from Jim on how to make a great audit presentation, check out this fun 2 hour video for CPE credit.