Presentation Skills Archives

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin

It’s no secret that gov. Sarah Palin is a controversial pick as a Vice Presidential running mate for Senator John McCain. A Google on her name will lead you to pages of conflicting analysis.

What we’re interested in here is the communications strategy the sides deploy. And Ms. Palin’s pre-nomination throws into relief the failure of the democrat’s charge of “inexperience” against her at least in the context of on-air debates.

The reason the inexperience charge fails is that it invites rebuttal and the rebuttal is too easy and too obvious. Larry King Live last night, for example, hosted James Carville, CNN Political Contributor and Obama support and Nancy Pfotenhauer, advisor to the McCain campaign. Here’s an excerpt of the debate

James Carville

James Carville, CNN Commentator, Obama Supporter

CARVILLE: “I am completely floored by this choice.”

Nancy Pfotenhauer, McCain Strategist

Nancy Pfotenhauer, McCain Strategist

KING: “Honestly put, Nancy — and it’s a fair question — of all the Republicans, is she the most qualified to be next commander-in- chief?”

PFOTENHAUER: “Well, I think that she is eminently qualified to be vice president.

In fact, Senator McCain’s picking Governor Palin, she has more experienced as the V.P. nominee than Senator Obama has as a presidential nominee.”

My issue is not whether Sarah Palin has the experience to be Vice President. It’s that James Carville is a communications strategist and he lost a point on national television that he should have anticipated he would. And, in fact, I saw him and Paul Begala, another democratic strategist lose this point again and again all night. And I’ve been watching democratic strategists lose this point again this morning in the same way. Read the rest of this entry

Death by Powerpoint is a lively issues these days. In fact, Business Communications Headline News gives us two presentations in as many days with the aim of helping us make better presentations.  Unfortunately, both miss the mark. We’ll look at each from a strategic standpoint to help you understand how they go astray and what you can learn to make your presentations more effective.

Sleepy Audience from Kapterev's Website

Sleepy Audience from Kapterev

You have to hand it to Alexei Kapterev for taking on bad powerpoint presentations and investing the time and effort to give you a solution (you can see his pdf presentation in it’s entirety here). It’s a good start. But his advice is a bit wide of the mark and his execution falls a bit short in particular ways. And understanding those missteps will help you make stronger choices.

Let’s consider Alexei’s central argument. Presentations, he says, are successful when they have Significance, Structure, Simplicity, and Rehearsal. Significance is the core, he tells us. In fact, it’s so much more important than structure that you can use any structure as long as it’s comprehensible and scalable. Alexei also gives us a definition of significance – you have significance if you’re communicating meaning that you’re passionate about.

This conception is backward and Read the rest of this entry

As much as the Chinese hope to win many medals in these Olympics, they also hope to use the

Olympics as a kind of coming out event, to let the world know that they are back. And the opening ceremonies were an auspicious start–a tutorial in nonverbal communications.

You likely saw the opening ceremonies. And I won’t add to the commentaris which are readily available on the internet. Our particular interest is communications, so we’ll focus on the messages that China was able to send subtextually through their staging of the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium

Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium

1. While the US and Europe may be in a recession, we have the wherewithal and will to construct a magnificent Olympic Village including a stadium outfitted especially for one night’s celebration.

2. We also have the resources to invest as much in one four-hour production as American spends on a big budget summer blockbuster.

3. We are many.  China is large enough to field a production with

2008 Chinese Drummers

2008 Chinese Drummers

15,000 performers including, expert drummers, Tai Chi performers, lighted dancers, and artists of many stripes.

4. Don’t think we are backward. We have remarkable expertise to bring to bear, even in technology. China showcased the largest LCD screen ever displayted.

Chinese Print Block Artists

Chinese Print Block Artists

5. We can be remarkably disciplined when we want to be. The Chinese memorialized their historic rise as well as their development of technologies such as paper and print block.  Perhaps the biggest surprise was that the swift and intricate choreography of the blocks–now a set a waves, now drops in a pond, now a chinese character, now the great wall–was in fact, not the work of a computer but a highly trained troupe of human performers.

Tim’s Takeaway:

There’s a saying in screenwriting–show, don’t tell.  In other words, don’t tell me your protagonist is compassionate; show me your protagonist passing up a raise to help a co-worker. Whatever message you’re trying to send in a screenplay comes across much more powerfully in action than in words. The Olympic opening ceremonies were a terrific example of that maxim at work, the messages that China was sending to the world came across much more powerfully enacted than they would have in any written statement or flowery speech. 

 

Much has been said in general about the ”new Al Gore” and his great success with An Inconvenient Truth. But we can say more in specific about how you can follow his lead to become a better speaker.

Of course, the presentation is compelling. It won Mr. Gore a Nobel Peace Prize, and his producers an Academy Award. An Inconvenient Truth stands as a treatise and rallying point for many in the environmental movement and beyond who simply care about the planet.  Whether or not you believe in global warming, there’s much to learn from An Inconvenient Truth, even in the first few minutes, about making your presentation more persuasive.

Wired How-To WikiThe Wired How-To Wiki gives you advice straight from Nancy Duarte, the design wizard who’s firm, Duarte Design, crafted the presentation for the former next president. There, you’ll find general suggestions such as these: Know Your Audience , Know When to Use a slide show, Memorize the Message, Keep Your Face to the Audience, Use Large Font, Use High Quality Images, Pay Attention to Image Rights, Choose the Right Tools . All these suggestions are good, of course. But Adam Pash of LifeHacker is right when he says they’re mostly common sense.

At Presentation Zen, Garr Reynolds gives you more about Gore’s style as well as some nice links to a Newsweek critique and Lawrence Lessig’s comments.

Our charter here is to help you craft your message. And there’s a lot more you can take away from Mr. Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, if we look closer, step-by-step.

You can see the first 10 minutes or so on YouTube. I’ve laid below the series of rhetorical tactics Mr. Gore employs that help bring the audience along quickly and effectively.

Al Gore

Step one: Strong Introduction. Gore, a very recognizable personality and authority, opens the presentation in a simple and surprising way. “I am Al Gore. I used to be the next President of the United States of America.” Because his bona fides are so strong, Mr. Gore can afford to touch on them only briefly and give us a bit of self-deprecating humor at the same time. He also sets a light tone at the outset which is sure to relieve many in the audience who anticipate a 90 minute ride through potentially depressing territory, and who recall him with apprehension as stiff and wooden on the campaign trail. Read the rest of this entry

 J K Rowling at HarvardJ K Rowlings’s commencement address at Harvard this past Friday is a communications conundrum.  The speech has a lot to recommend it. Throughout, Ms. Rowling is, of course, quite articulate displaying her remarkable touch for rhetoric–balancing the humorous with the earnest, the  sober with the soaring. Yet NPR reported that as affecting as the speech was, for many people it wasn’t inspirational.

That observation presents a real problem for most coaches and students of speech making. Read the rest of this entry