Practice the Golden Rule of Presenting

Working with a lawyer recently, I sat in silence as he labored through a a painful presentation on “Recent Developments in Corporate Law.”

“Tell me the truth,” I said, when he was done with his rehearsal. “Would you want to listen to this presentation?”

He paused a moment and seemed a little taken aback. But then his shoulders sagged a little and confessed, “I guess not.”

That incident and many others have led me to posit what I call “The Golden Rule of Presenting:”

“Present unto others as you would have them present unto you.”

If you want to be a good presenter, put yourself in the shoes of your listeners.

How many points would you like to listen to?

How many slides would you like to sit through?

Would you rather hear stories or lots of data?

Would you rather have someone read you their presentation or deliver it extemporaneously with lots of energy?

Would you like to see someone who comes across as well-rehearsed or not?

What would you want to take away from this presentation?



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A Treasury of 2008’s Commencement Wisdom

So many commencement speeches. So few cliches. 

J.K. Rowling, Carl Bernstein, Bill Nye and many others gave speeches to college graduates this graduation season.  As a public service, The Wall Street Journal summarized many of the speeches in this story.

None of the speakers asked me for my input. But if they had, I would have directed them to my recent post on how to give a great commencement speech.

Here is “Harry Potter” creator J.K. Rowling’s speech to the Harvard graduates on the “benefits of failure.”


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Here’s Jobs’s iPhone Speech From Yesterday

As I was playing this speech for the first time this morning in my hotel room, my wife looked over my shoulder and said, “He’s so arrogant.”

Maybe. But he ain’t dull.

As usual, Jobs is passionate. He uses visuals that are incredibly simple. And his speciality — fun demonstrations — is on full display. In this clip he does a little demo on downloading of documents. These demos comprise the kind of little stories that make a presentation fun.

Let me know if you agree with my wife.


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Steve Jobs’s Great Speeches Are Part of His Brand

Steve Jobs gave another speech today, introducing the upgrade of the iPhone in San Francisco. And sure enough, it’s a huge story in the the New York Times.  Jobs’s presentations have become a kind of “must see” corporate theater. 

Why?  Of course, part of it is that he announces cool stuff.  But there are plenty of corporate announcements of new products that don’t garner such publicity. 

Jobs gets so much attention because his presentations are reliably fantastic.  As I write this post, I haven’t been able to see today’s presentation.  It hasn’t been posted on YouTube yet. 

But when you sit down to hear Jobs give a presentation, you expect something exciting.  He’s passionate. He tells stories. He does cool demonstrations.  Part of the Steve Jobs “brand” — what you can reliably expect from him — is that he’s a great presenter.  Every time he stands up, everyone knows that he’s going to deliver something exciting.

What gets me excited is that anyone can learn to make “great presenter” part of their own brand. You don’t have to have an iPhone to unveil to develop the reputation as a great presenter.

In fact, most companies that I’ve worked for have people who are known throughout their organization as great speakers.  They get that way by working hard on their presentations and not settling for the usual boring stuff.

Like Steve Jobs, they usually do four things.

  • Keep the message simple and focused on issues that the audience cares about.  Jobs always keeps things simple and easy to follow. 
  • Tell stories.  Jobs is always telling stories and giving demonstrations, which are stories in their own way. 
  • Speak with passion. Jobs seems to truly be having fun.  
  • And rehearse. Jobs practices a lot.

 Do those four things consistently and your name will become synonymous with “great presenter.”

Here is the introduction of the iPhone from last year.  As soon as today’s speech is posted, I’ll put it up.  


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How to Give a Great Commencement Speech

With graduation season upon us, I’d like to invite you to imagine the following.  You get a call from your college president. “Hello [insert your first name]” she says. “You’ve achieved a lot in your life. We think you’d do a great job speaking to our graduates at their commencement.”

“What should I talk about?” you ask.

“Whatever you’d like,” she responds. “It would be nice if you could keep it to no more than 15 minutes.”

You agree and then hang up.

Then what? Most likely you panic.  Few things are more difficult than delivering a commencement speech.  Graduates expect these speeches to be inspirational. They want a peak experience to mark their graduation. But, unless your name is Oprah Winfrey, Tony Robbins, or Zig Ziglar, chances are that you don’t really see yourself as an inspirational speaker. 

In fact, I’ve had several successful business people come to me anxious about how they are going to inspire graduates. Here’s what I tell them: “Forget about trying to inspire.  Instead, use your own story to tell them something that they will find helpful in achieving their goals.”

I worked recently with a very successful businessman who had been asked to speak to the MBA graduates of his business school. “I’m too young,” he told me. “I don’t really have any advice to give people. Plus it all seems a little pretentious. I really have no idea what to say that won’t come off as completely trite.”

But I asked him what these graduates were interested in. “As MBAs, most want to run a business or at least be very successful in a business.”  

I then asked him to name three things he thought were important to reaching those goals.  His answer? “Gaining the proper background and experience. Mastering the culture of your company. Passion for the work.”

I then urged him to tell some personal stories illustrating those points.  He told his own stories and those of people he knew. He then practiced like crazy, rehearsing more than a dozen times.  He did great and received lots of compliments. It was a huge success.

He succeeded by avoiding the tendency to rely on inspirational clichés. Instead, he simply thought about what the audience was interested in achieving and used his own experience to help them get there. And he delivered the message with passion.

You Tube has hundreds of commencement speeches. Most of them are terrible. The best I’ve found is still the one delivered by Steve Jobs to the graduates of Stanford University in 2005.  He made a few points and told his own story.



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Making a Conference “Worth it” to Attendees

Great post today from marketing guru Seth Godin about what business people expect when they travel to meet with you or to hear you deliver a conference presentation. He writes:

I think the standard for a great meeting or a terrific conference has changed.

In other words, “I flew all the way here for this?” is going to be far more common than it used to be.

If you think a great conference is one where the presenters read a script while showing the audience bullet points, you’re wrong. Or if you leave little time for attendees to engage with others, or worse, if you don’t provide the levers to make it more likely that others will engage with each other, you’re wrong as well.

Here’s what someone expects if they come to see you on an in-person sales call: that you’ll be prepared, focused, enthusiastic and willing to engage honestly about the next steps. If you can’t do that, don’t have the meeting.

Here’s what a speaker owes an audience that travels to engage in person: more than they could get by just reading the transcript.

There are at least two things conference attendees can’t get from a transcript. The first is relationships with the speaker and the other attendees.  The second is a chance to get their personal questions answered.  If you aren’t ensuring that your presentations do both, then your presentations could be falling short.


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