Last week, I attended the annual meeting of an association of which The Genard Method is a member. Amid the keynotes, board meetings, panels, and lunchtime speeches, were two outstanding presentations. They were both blockbuster speeches—the kind that create a “Wow!” response from audiences.
They were totally different in terms of style and substance, flavor and texture. But each tapped into a formula for public speaking success we all need to learn and practice. So today, I’d like to discuss this aspect of the best presentations displayed by these speeches, and how you can use the same approach in your own public speaking.
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A Twofold Secret to Creating a Blockbuster Presentation
To go from the everyday to the extraordinary when you speak, forget about delivering information. Think instead of engaging and inspiring your audience. When you speak in public, your task is both simpler and more complex than you might think: simple because you need only talk to people about an interest you share; complex because as a speaker, you should aim to change your audience’s way of thinking and behaving.
Let’s look at how the two speeches I listened to at the annual meeting accomplished these twin goals. Both were on aspects of healthcare, the association’s area of focus. Specifically, the theme of the meeting was population health, which is concerned with improving health outcomes for groups or entire populations.
The first presentation was by Kyra Bobinet, M.D., and was entitled “The Science Behind the Secrets to Population Health.” Dr. Bobinet was followed by Tony Buettner, who spoke on “The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.” Both presentations used PowerPoint along with brief video clips.
Engagement is the Name of the Game in Public Speaking
Dr. Bobinet tapped doubly into the need to engage one’s audience. As the founder of engagedIN, a behavior design firm, she has devoted herself to “helping people crack the code of how and why we engage in things.” Secondly, her presentation was conceived and structured around the idea of engagement.
I’m happy to report that this speaker walks the walk when it comes to fostering engagement in her own presentations. Though her talk was science-based, she used a narrative format that was easy for her audience to follow. Standing apart from the lectern (a personal favorite of mine), she frequently touched down in personal territory, bringing her own experiences into the narrative to engage us on a human level. Her slides were clean, simple, and attractive, with visual elements as prominent as the verbal content.
Most important, engagement was baked into her talk. She let the audience know early on, for instance, that we were expected to contribute: “I’ll be showing you a couple of slides that will be asking for your engagement, so you can get ready,” she said, or something to that effect. And later on, she led us in a demonstration that required us to use our hands, to illustrate her point about how we all settle into comfort zones that can affect how willing we are to engage in new behavior.
Overall, this talk was a powerful demonstration—across content, style, and execution—of how engagement can help lift a presentation from the mundane to the memorable. The comments I heard from other attendees following Dr. Bobinet’s talk easily confirmed that fact. Here’s more on how to be a charismatic speaker who achieves maximum authenticity and credibility.
Want to Inspire Listeners? — Use Storytelling
Tony Buettner’s presentation which followed was equally delightful, but for very different reasons. His talk on “Blue Zones” was less science-based (though science had a role to play), more uplifting and universal.
Blue Zones began as a three-way project between Tony’s brother Dan Buettner, National Geographic, and researchers into longevity, to identify “pockets” around the world where people live longer and better lives. (The 5 Blue Zones they identified include Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, CA; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; and Icaria, Greece.) The Blue Zones Project that emerged from that work is an initiative that now helps American communities to increase residents’ lifespan, slash healthcare costs, and generally allow people to live happier and healthier lives.
The Blue Zones the team discovered are amazing. But it’s the real-life stories that the Buettners tell in their presentations that make their talks riveting. In this presentation as well, the slides displayed were simple and unified, with single images predominating. As my clients and trainees hear me say frequently, “What’s the use of impenetrable slides with so much data on them they can’t be absorbed in the time they’re being shown?”
In the end, it’s the stories you tell that will not only keep listeners in their seat but also make your message “sticky.” Information and data dumped in an audience’s lapse will, in turn, be dumped on the floor as soon as they rise. But your stories may linger in the mind for days and even weeks afterward. Like the Buettners, look for stories from everyday life that touch listeners with universal concerns. Whether those listeners are team members at the office or the attendees of an annual meeting, the same rule applies. Read my article here on how to tell great stories as a speaker.
Do that, and you won’t just educate but inspire your audience.
The Path You Choose Will Be the Right One
So what are the lessons to take away from these two annual meeting speeches?
First, it’s the conception of your talk that matters most in your planning stage. Speeches and presentations are strategic activities. Can you conceive your talk in terms of a story, language, and experiences that your listeners can relate to?
Second, remember those twin poles of blockbuster presentations I mentioned at the start of this blog: engaging and inspiring listeners. Though these two talks were very different from one another, both aimed at changing the audience’s thinking. That’s a paradigm shift, and a challenge to any speaker. To bring it off, you’ll need maximum engagement as you inspire your listeners to greater things.
Third, neither one of these speakers talked like a professor, an expert, or an authority. Both were natural and conversational, vernacular and casual. Each presentation seemed fresh, in a way that most conference speeches aren’t.
They were a pleasure to experience, reminding me of how speeches can make a difference and entertain at the same time. I wish the same for you, when you listen to speeches and when you make your own.
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 Dan Buettner, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2010), vii. As cited at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Zone.