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4 Questions for Better Presentations, A New Writing Lesson, An Amazing Bar Trick, and More
Bring Ambition Newsletter - June 3, 2022
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The Bring Ambition Newsletter is like having a personal executive coach in your inbox every 2 weeks. You’ll receive 3-5 quick bulletpoints (~3 min. read) related to professional development, peak performance psychology, leadership, productivity, and much more.
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1.) 2-minute public speaking tips: 4 questions for a better presentation
I saw a presentation the other day from possibly the least charismatic guy in his whole division. And you know what? He nailed it.
He was clearly uncomfortable. He barely raised his eyes and held a shaking sheet of notes in front of him the entire time. But he kept it conversational, structured his presentation well, explained his main points in layman’s terms, included some brief but surprising data points, and then got the hell off the stage with plenty of time to spare. Even though he was discussing an obscure desktop program I had only vaguely heard of, I still remember his main ideas.
It’s incredibly hard to present technical work to non-technical colleagues or large audiences. It’s a constant struggle for professionals in STEM fields, and really anyone whose job can’t be readily “dumbed down.” For much of the last month I’ve been dissecting and discussing this challenge in hopes of gleaning some valuable insights for professionals within my purview. Here’s one major takeaway which you may find valuable:
No matter how awkward, nervous, or untalented someone is, they can still be a great presenter. While it helps, you don’t have to be naturally charismatic — in fact you can do just as well, if not better than someone who is naturally talented. You just need to nail the basics. That means adequately preparing, understanding your material, and practicing strong foundational skills.
Let’s talk about preparation.
Of course, you should practice your presentation. Practice as much as possible in advance of getting on stage, ideally with others listening and providing feedback. But the first step, before you even put pen to paper, is to think through these 4 critical questions:
WHO are you presenting to, and WHEN/WHERE?
Tailor your message for your audience. Think about their existing knowledge of the subject, their expectations, and their preferred communication styles (e.g. Direct vs indirect? Detailed vs high level? Abstract vs concrete?). Consider the setting and logistics so you know what to expect, and so you know whether the audience will be energized or already bored by the time you step on stage. Be cognizant of when you are presenting (i.e. how much time you have to prep) and how long you have. Preparation for next week’s presentation from a podium to a large audience will differ greatly from a proposal tomorrow via zoom, or an update today to peers around a table.
WHAT will you tell the audience?
Here’s a common presentation mistake: confusing your topic for your point. Your “point” is your main idea, thesis, novel point of view, unique finding, etc. Precisely define what you want your audience come away with. Think of it like a pop song. What “chorus” do you want repeating in their head after leaving your presentation? Share it early and often throughout your presentation.
WHY should they care?
What’s in it for your audience to pay attention to you? Why should they care? What is your call to action (CTA) / what do you need from them? How will this benefit them? Defining this up front will help you appropriately construct your message.
HOW will you get your message across?
Think about the structure of your message (e.g. main point > supporting points > reiteration of main point and call to action) and how you will use supporting materials, if any (e.g. PowerPoint, handouts, etc.). Plan your verbal and nonverbal delivery, including any bad habits you can mitigate (best practices include: varying your vocal tone, pacing, volume, etc.; pausing and using silence effectively; eliminating filler words; sitting/standing up straight and gesturing naturally; etc.)
Once you answer these questions, only then can you craft a truly compelling presentation. It doesn’t matter how charismatic you are. If you adequately convey your “main point” and why the audience should care, if you’re thoughtful about your structure and delivery, and if you’ve shown adequate consideration for when/where you’re speaking and who is listening, you tilt the odds of being well-received drastically in your favor.
2.) Quote of the week
“You dwell in what you dwell on.”
3.) Updated article
“13 Writing Lessons from Ian Fleming, Creator of James Bond.” In April 2021, I published an in-depth analysis of Ian Fleming’s celebrated writing style, including 12 tips for aspiring writers to apply to their own work. Last week I mentioned I was re-reading Fleming’s novels, and I’ve since noticed one glaring - and powerful - technique was missing.
I’ve now updated this article with a brand new section — another tool the author used to great effect, which you can implement in your own writing to help create a unique sense of style and distinct tone and atmosphere in your writing.
4.) Bar trick I wish I could do
Here’s some lighter content to liven up your Friday, and maybe the most miraculous music performance ever caught on film:
Thanks for reading this week’s newsletter! I’d love to hear your feedback — reply here or reach me via the links below.
Have a great weekend!
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