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CHAPTER 4 Studying the Greats – Develop Your Style

If you want to blow your competition out of the water, or just be an amazing public speaker and presenter, the best advice I can give you is to study the people who rock at their craft. This is the same advice that someone would need if they wanted to improve in any type of sport or specialized skill. Get out there, watch the pros, and figure out what they’re doing right. When you see something that grabs your attention, figure out a way to take that thing with you.

But how, you ask?

Each time I’ve attended any type of event, whether it included speakers, presenters, or any type of training, I’ve paid attention. I’ve kept a notebook handy and written down those things that I thought really worked well to keep my attention and helped to deliver the point. I also kept note of all the nonsense speakers committed that either irritated me or caused the audience to run for the exits. In fact, it’s years of prolific note-taking while sitting through some of the best and worst presentations that made this book possible.

But wait, what is that I hear you saying?

“I don’t have the time, nor the interest, to sit through years of presentations to find some little nugget of who-knows-what just to bring my presentation skills up one notch.”

Who said you had to?

Get Ready For the Fast Track!

Allow me to direct you to some of the world’s greatest speakers and presenters. And you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your computer to see them. Below, I have examples of people who’ve not only been an inspiration in my life, but are absolute rock stars when it comes to delivering their message.

I’ve linked each of the names of the speaking pros below to a video of what they do best. There is a short explanation as to why I’ve chosen that particular person, and I’ve given you a heads-up as to what you should be watching for so you might be able to incorporate it into your presentation style.

By the way, everything I think makes these people great is detailed later in this book. Whether it’s movement, speaking style, use of props or whatever, I’ve got it covered.

Anthony (Tony) Robbins – Motivational Speaker, Entrepreneur and Author

Tony Robbins may be the most successful self-help guru in the world. With over 25 years of experience speaking to audience-filled auditoriums for several days at a time, he delivers powerful messages that drive people to action.

This video, entitled “How to Influence People and Get What You Want” is a segment of one of Tony’s multi-day conferences. The topic he covers in this segment is about rapport building. It’s about 23 minutes long, but Tony’s ability to project his message will be apparent within the first few.

Points to Watch For: 

What I find inspirational about Tony’s speaking style is exactly what you should be looking for in his video: Command Presence. Granted, he’s six foot, seven inches tall, and has a deep, gravelly voice. But even if he were a little dude, I think that he’d still be able to get people’s attention. That’s because command presence comes out not only when you know your material extremely well, but also when you speak with confidence and authority. It’s one of the essential differences between experts and amateurs.

Here are some other things to watch for:

  • Inflection in Voice
  • Emphasis of Key Words
  • Passion of Delivery
  • Subject Matter Expertise
  • Free Flow of Hands

Robin Williams (1951 – 2014) – Comedian and Actor

Robin Williams was pure genius. And it’s through Robin’s stand-up comedy I prove my idea that the best presentations are actually performances. Think about it. Is stand-up comedy so different from doing a presentation? I’d argue that the goal is the same. Deliver a message in a way that your audience is receptive to what you have to say. And Robin Williams was masterful in his ability to deliver multiple messages in a way the audience loved.

Before we go on, keep in mind that I’m not suggesting you turn your presentation into a stand-up comedy routine. That might be fun, but not likely what your Social Studies professor is expecting. However, I do believe in making presentations fun and memorable.

This video from 1982 is entitled, “Robin Williams as the American Flag”. At five minutes long, Robin’s performance is packed with take-aways that you can easily incorporate into your presentation. Since this video is actually quite entertaining, I’d recommend watching the video for fun the first time through just to see why he remains my favorite comedian and performer of all time. Then watch it again, but this time search for the points I’ve listed below.

Points to Watch For:

Notice first off that Robin is basing his routine on what may seem like a narrow topic, The American Flag. An overwhelmed student might receive this as a topic from their instructor and struggle to come up with material worthy of a 20 minute presentation. But here you’ll see that there are all kinds of subtopics surrounding the flag. Among other things, Robin talks about the creator of the flag, the stars and the states they represent, the meaning of the various ways the flag is flown, and the symbolism of the flag.

Here are some other things to watch for:

  • Use of Props
  • Use of Hands
  • Body Movement
  • Use of Stage
  • Passion of Delivery

Amanda “Fucking” Palmer –  Musician “The Dresden Dolls”, Author and TED⁠1 Speaker

I learned about Amanda via my favorite podcast, “The Tim Ferriss Show”. The podcast is titled, “Amanda Palmer on How to Fight, Meditate, and Make Good Art.” I’d never heard of her before, but during the interview she spoke in great detail about her process for developing her TED talk, “The Art of Asking,” which is just under fourteen minutes long. The discussion about her creative process is reason enough to listen to this interview. I was fascinated to learn about how much heart and effort she put into preparing what appears to be an effortless presentation. Even as a veteran performer and musician, Amanda suffered the same challenges as any college student having to stand before an audience and deliver their best.

Of the four recommendations in this section, “The Art of Asking” is my favorite. However, if you opt to listen to the podcast interview with Tim Ferriss, a word of warning: The interview is filled with colorful language that may be offensive to some listeners. But if you want to hear a fantastic interview with an inspirational artist, including Amanda’s funny explanation about how she acquired her stage name, you’re gonna have to take a listen.

Points to Watch For:

The first few moments of this presentation demonstrate the power of silence. Notice that the preparation and presentation of the props create an uneasy, perhaps even haunting sort of feeling for the audience. When Amanda finally speaks, the monotone quality of her voice helps to maintain that tension until she reveals her first PowerPoint slide. You can feel the tension subside as the audience releases their breath. These are subtle techniques, but quite powerful for injecting emotion into a presentation.

Here are some other things to watch for:

  • Use of Props
  • Storytelling
  • Emotional Connection
  • Passion of Delivery

1 Technology, Entertainment and Design

Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011) – Co-founder of Apple Computer

If you’re at all familiar with Steve Jobs’ speaking and presentation style, there are two sources you may be drawing from. The MacWorld computer shows in which Steve’s keynote speeches, later dubbed “Stevenotes,” have been regarded as events in and of themselves. Granted, his purpose at these events was to debut the newest products from Apple, including the iPod, iPad, iPhone, and the newest Apple computers. But his strength was his ability to connect with the audience while debuting the latest gadget from Apple. And it was from these presentations Steve became famous for the catch phrase, “One more thing.” This signature line was his cue to the audience that the last thing he was going to talk about was going to be the biggest.

Since there are so many MacWorld keynotes to draw from, I’d recommend a search using the keywords, Steve Jobs MacWorld, and then include your favorite Apple device, as it was likely debuted by Steve himself. I’m partial to his introduction of the iPhone at MacWorld 2007. And if you decide you want to learn more about Jobs’ techniques and preparation for his keynotes, consider reading the book, “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs” by Carmine Gallo. You’ll learn much of what I cover in this book, but you’ll get deeper into the weeds of planning and developing your presentation.

The other source you may be familiar with is Steve’s 2005 Stanford Commencement Address. Of the links I’ve provided, this one demonstrates how to tackle a more traditional speech. There is no PowerPoint, Steve is fixed at a podium, and he uses notes for reference. Regardless of whatever you’re preparing for, I highly recommend this video for one technique he’s very good at, and that’s good storytelling.

Here are some other things to watch for:

  • Powerful Message
  • Delivery Style
  • Emotional Connection
  • Proper Use of Notes
  • Eye Contact

Keep in mind, these are people who I’ve drawn inspiration from to develop my own presentation style. There are many reasons to like what these great speakers have to offer. However, you may want to develop a presentation style that’s completely left of center, and unlike what every college student has been doing for the last thirty years. In fact, I encourage you to do just that! Find your own source of inspiration and grab up tips and tricks that fit your personality. Find speakers whose topics are of your own interest. Branch out even further and study your favorite performers in all the arts you enjoy. Take everything you discover and use it to develop your own unique performance style.

Discovering Your Own Inspiration

Your absolute best resource for finding videos of amazing presentations and speakers is at TED.com. The acronym TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and the topics discussed loosely fall into one of those three categories. Taken from their website, “TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less).” I’ll add that there’s a handful of presentations that are just three to four minutes long. These videos are great examples of how you can pack a lot of information into a very short period of time.

The beauty of TED is that because all the presentations are eighteen minutes or less, you can see exactly what it takes to do a presentation that is similar in length to yours. You can search for your topic of interest using key words or draw from the category menus. Regardless of the topic you choose to watch, know that the speaker is an invited guest to the TED conference and is not being paid to speak. Speaking at a TED conference, regardless of who you are, is considered to be a privilege (although I hear the speakers get a great SWAG bag for their effort). Because of the prestige that comes with being a guest speaker at a TED conference, the speakers know they have to bring their “A” game.

To get you started, here are some more recommendations:

  • Adam Savage – The man from MythBusters! He’s one of my favorites for taking topics that, on the surface, seem as if they would be difficult to expand on and turning them into a fascinating eighteen minutes. Check out these two videos: “My Love Letter to Cosplay” and “My Obsession With Objects and the Stories They Tell”.
  • Brene Brown – I know her as an author. But with over twenty-six million views on TED, she is a TED favorite. Check out: ”The Power of Vulnerability”.
  • Jill Bolte Taylor – A brain scientist has the opportunity to study her own brain as she suffers a stroke. Give her extra credit for introducing one of the coolest props ever. This is a scientist’s approach to presenting. Check out: “My Stroke of Insight”.