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"Be a voice not an echo." - Albert Einstein

What This CEO's Keynote Can Teach You About Public Speaking


A high-profile speech can be a career-changer. Here's how to be at the top of your game when you give a presentation while avoiding an elementary mistake.

Since 1967, when it began in New York City, the Consumer Electronics Show has been a high-profile showcase for design gadgetry and wizardry. Now known as CES, the megatrade show takes place over three days every January in Las Vegas. This year’s event was held last week, from January 6-9, 2016.

As it always does, CES 2016 offered keynotes that featured new product designs and applications from some of the world's best-known companies. I watched three of these keynote speeches online, given by the CEOs of Volkswagen, General Motors, and Intel.

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The opening address was delivered by Dr. Herbert Diess of Volkswagen—no surprise, since the automotive industry is always a star of this show. Adding to the interest in that particular speech this year were Volkswagen’s troubles with its diesel emissions scandal.

Dr. Diess didn’t disappoint, either in mentioning the scandal front-and-center at the start of his talk, or in visual splendor. In fact, his keynote was easily the sexiest of the three I viewed. Still, there were successful and unsuccessful elements of this speech. Here’s my take on what we can all learn as speakers from Dr. Diess's talk.

Transform an Effective Business Presentation Into a Show

You may not be speaking on the national stage at a major trade show. But adding some dramatic elements will help any of your speeches or presentations.

In Dr. Diess’s keynote on how Volkswagen is leading the way in the digital automobile revolution, the stars of the show were the two new cars that debuted on stage: the e-Golf Touch and the Budd-e. The first of the new cars, said Dr. Diess, is nothing less than “a smartphone on wheels”; and the second, a reinvention of Volkswagen’s famous minibus, represents “a new vehicle architecture for electric cars.”  

Yes, it helps to be able to roll out splashy new car designs as part of your speech. But though your talks will unfurl on a much more modest scale, the principles of adding drama are the same. Where are the elements of surprise in your presentation? The earlier you alert listeners that yours isn’t a run-of-the-mill recital of facts, the sooner they’ll be convinced you’re an interesting speaker worth listening to. Is there, perhaps, a demonstration you can include?

Even apart from visuals, think in terms of the human drama—the challenges, quests, and triumphs that the people in your narrative dealt with. When you tell a story rather than spill out data, your speech will quickly acquire both interest and memorability. And truly, a story well lived and told is filled with elements of drama you hardly need to search for! Here's more on how to add drama to your speeches and presentations.

Create Sound Bites that Make Your Speeches Memorable

Another tool that instantly increases audience engagement and retention of what you say is the colorful language of sound bites. You need only turn on your TV or radio to be bathed in sound bites all day long. They’re the snippets you hear from people being interviewed for news stories that the reporters judged to be memorable (or that at least fit into the few seconds available in the segment).

Once you’ve created great content for your listeners, don’t spoil your presentation by using language that can weaken your influence. Learn the words and phrases that can get in the way of your success. Download my free cheat sheet, “25 Words or Phrases to Avoid in Speeches and Presentations.”

Dr. Diess’s keynote was filled with well-considered and catchy phrases, all carefully calibrated for his CES speech. Some examples: “The dawn of an automotive cloud”; “A second home on wheels”; “Now the car is part of the smart home”; “A new interface between man and car.”

When you're looking for how to use sound bites in public speaking, think in terms of a) comparisons; b) language which uses imagery; and c) surprising connections. (When President Ronald Regan was being prepared for surgery after a nearly successful assassination attempt in 1981, he joked to the trauma team in the operating room, “I hope you’re all Republicans.”) Don’t try to create a snappy sound bite, which probably won’t work. But do look for a fresh way to present your material in terms of language.

 How to Improve Team Presentations So They’re Smooth and Effective

Too often, team presentations are awkward because rehearsals have been lacking—and that seemed to be the case with the Volkswagen CES keynote. Dr. Diess brought a number of people onstage in his talk (a common practice in this trade show’s keynotes). They included engineers from his company, as well as representatives from firms Volkswagen is partnering with in its digital innovations.

The hand-offs from the keynote speaker to the guests were uniformly weak. I had the impression they may not have been practiced at all, and the principals involved may not have even known each other. That may not have been true, but it doesn’t matter if that was the audience’s impression. The remarks of these guests were informative but clunky, as though everyone was reading from a script without bringing any life to the occasion.

As anyone who reads this column knows, I’m a zealous advocate of stage skills in public speaking. We all need to keep this in mind whenever we speak; but the need to give a well planned and rehearsed presentation is especially important in team talks. To learn more, see my blog on 5 ways to improve your team's presentation skills. As team members, we don’t get a pass because we all live busy lives in different departments. A smooth speech with integrated elements is always necessary—no matter how extravagant the rest of the presentation.

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Tags: CES,trade show,consumer electronics show,keynote speech,effective keynote speech

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