Political Speeches & Business Presentations

I write this on the eve of U.S. President Barack Obama's first State of the Union Address.

Style, often over substance,  goes a long way in politics. The way politicians present their positions can define the outcome of a campaign. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and now Obama have moved audiences to action through their engaging oratory, wit, enthusiasm, confidence and assertiveness. They sell themselves vocally and visually, in an effort to project strength and believability to the public.

Similarly, business leaders often climb the ranks of their organizations because of their ability to present and sell their ideas. They are not always the most talented, most intelligent nor the most strategic. They do often exude confidence and energy. When they speak, they command attention - The audience listens, believes and responds.

My underlying message here is simple. I can't overemphasize the importance of quality presentation skills. If you consider yourself a poor public speaker, seek help. If you're currently a good public speaker, don't settle! Strive to be great. If you think you're a great public speaker, become powerful. Train every year if possible.

I know senior executives that go through our presentation programs and/or private counseling every year. They want to stay sharp. They want to improve and make a stronger impact. They want to succeed in our ever changing, more competitive and more demanding business environments.

Granted, an annual training regime is not in everybody's budget. So here are a few tips I guarantee will improve your presentations in the future:

  • Practice, preparation is the backbone of confidence
  • Pause. Silence structures your ideas and improves your memory
  • Gesture and maintain eye contact with your audience
  • Feel your words. Project a belief in your message

A little over five years ago, a State Senator from Illinois delivered a speech that changed the course of his life.


The Chemist's Lesson – Handling Questions in Presentations

According to the chemist, he delivered a quality presentation. He was happy with the flow. He was confident during the presentation and he felt that he had reached his audience. He presented research that he had been working on for several years.

He finished presenting his last visual and the audience greeted him with a heart-warming applause. He confidently asked the audience if there were any questions and there were several. The first few he handled with no problem. The questions referred to the results of his research and were no problem for this expert.

The chemist then smiling, selected the next questioner. An audience member stood up and very firmly stated that based on the work and research of a fellow colleague, everything that the chemist presented was wrong. The chemist's face went blank, neutral and the chemist froze. He did not know what to say nor how to respond. He uttered some sounds but basically lost control. Unfortunately, the Chemist will remember that day of humiiation for the rest of his life.

Handling questions at the end of a presentation is one of the most vulnerable moments in a person's career. You know what you're going to present but you never know with total certainty what the audience might ask, a comment they make or how they may attack you. You must prepare! Here are some tips:

Expect the unexpected-sit down with some colleagues and have them present every issue they can think of. Write down the questions and your answers.

Rephrase the question prior to answering - Break visually from the questioner and rephrase the question. This technique has several benefits, the most important being that it provides you with thinking time.

Don't finish your answer looking into the eyes of the questioner- this is an automatic invitation for the questioner to ask you another question.

Good luck and feel free to share your experiences.