Nail a Speech, Launch a Career

The Secret Formula for an Effective Presentation

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By Paul Studebaker, Editor in Chief, SustainablePlant.com

Like King George VI, "Engineers are terrible presenters," asserted Dave Beckmann to a packed room in Tuesday afternoon's workshop, "Nail a Speech, Launch a Career," at this week's Emerson Global Users Exchange in Nashville. If you want to convince your boss to fund your project, your peers to admire your work, or a customer to buy your product, Beckmann, an active preacher and retired Emerson marketing expert, offered do's, don'ts, and a sure-fire formula for an effective presentation.

Every good speech has three aspects: its elements, its construction and its delivery. And there should be three elements. First, start with an illustration that everyone can relate to. "Make it something simple and memorable that captivates us," Beckmann says.

Then make three points. "Always three," he says. "People are wired to remember three things." They should introduce an antagonist—the adversity to be overcome, the problem to be solved. "For Apple, it's the PC Guy. For Emerson today, perhaps it's 'complexity.'" The points should provide an answer to the antagonist, problem or dilemma, and they should make a call to action.

Finally, bring the presentation to a conclusion, usually by coming back to the opening scenario. "It's a classic, all-time, sure-thing approach," Beckmann says.

But a simple structure doesn't mean preparing a presentation is quick and easy. "A speech is work," Beckmann says. "Don't think you can just gather some slides and throw it together." He's adamant that you write a script (15 hours), sketch the slides (five hours) and then build them (10 hours). "Every time you stand up and open your mouth, you're being judged." Don't agree to make a speech if you don't have time to do it right—a poor presentation will hurt your career more than a good one would help it. "Ask yourself why you're being asked to make the speech and write out that reason," he says.

As you work on the presentation, consider seven elements:

  1. Select a title that intrigues the audience and draws them in (like the title of this article).
  2. Write a passion statement—one sentence that coalesces your presentation—to guide you, even though you might not say it.
  3. The three key points.
  4. Illustrations: Tell a story for each point.
  5. "Bring real stuff," Beckmann says, "Something physical if you can. We are cursed by PowerPoints."
  6. Use testimonials to prove your points.
  7. Make a call to action.

While you're building your presentation, "Pay attention to attention span," Beckmann says. "The average human being can't concentrate for more than 10 minutes." Use videos to reengage them and illustrate your points. Keep slides simple and light on words.

When you're delivering the presentation, be careful not to inject throwaways like "you know," "uh" or "OK…" Listen to yourself, or have others listen to you to be sure.

Can you read your speech? "Sure," Beckmann says, "as long as you read it well." Never one to leave things to chance, Steve Jobs read one of his most famous speeches, his address to Stanford University's class of 2005.

Dress is not critical, said Beckmann in his khakis, striped shirt and argyle sweater-vest. But do consider the crowd and if it's conservative, "cover up your tattoos." He ended, as you might expect, on his opening note: "If a speech could make a king and save a country, I guarantee it could launch your career."

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