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Presentation Skills

Seeing Things in Perspective

Dear Mother and Dad:

Since I left for college I have been remiss in writing and I am sorry for my thoughtlessness in not having written before. I will bring you up to date now, but before you read on, please sit down. You are not to read any further unless you are sitting down, okay?

Well, then, I am getting along pretty well now. The skull fracture and the concussion I got when I jumped out the window of my dormitory when it caught on fire shortly after my arrival here is pretty well healed now. I only spent two weeks in the hospital and now I can see almost normally and only get those sick headaches once a day.

Fortunately, the fire in the dormitory, and my jump, was witnessed by an attendant at the gas station near the dorm, and he was the one who called the Fire Department and the ambulance. He also visited me in the hospital and since I had nowhere to live because of the burntout dormitory, he was kind enough to invite me to share his apartment with him. It’s really a basement room, but it’s kind of cute. He is a very fine boy and we have fallen deeply in love and are planning to get married.

We haven’t got the exact date yet, but it will be before my pregnancy begins to show. Yes, Mother and Dad, I am pregnant. I know how much you are looking forward to being grandparents and I know you will welcome the baby and give it the same love and devotion and tender care you gave me when I was a child. The reason for the delay in our marriage is that my boyfriend has a minor infection which prevents us from passing our pre-marital blood tests and I carelessly caught it from him.

Now that I have brought you up to date, I want to tell you that there was no dormitory fire, I did not have a concussion or skull fracture, I was not in the hospital, I am not pregnant, I am not engaged, I am not infected, and there is no boyfriend.

However, I am getting a “D” in American History, and an “F” in Chemistry and I want you to see those marks in their proper perspective.

Your loving daughter, Sharon

Obama’s Speechwriter Shares 5 Storytelling Tips

Obama’s Speechwriter Shares 5 Storytelling Tips

There is a great story behind Obama’s excellence in his speeches.  Jon Favreau was the director of speech-writing for Obama for 8 years until 2014.  Jon shared five golden tips of storytelling that certainly do not only apply in politics, but in business presentations and every speech you need to make.

1.  The story is more important than the words

“In my experience communications too often focuses on finding the right words. Of course words are important at some point in the process. But the first question you have to ask yourself is: what is the story I’m trying to sell? That is essential, and should be the starting point.”

Before Favreau started writing a speech, he would always start with simply talking to Obama. “He would give me a few random thoughts off the top of his head of what he wanted to say. The interesting thing about the President is that he always instantly gave the most logical outline of a speech I had ever heard. I was always impressed by his ability to start with clear rhetoric and add arguments and anecdotes later.”

2.  Keep it simple

“Long speeches are the easiest to write. They are also the most forgettable”, Favreau explained. “Audiences today can only handle so much information before they start losing focus. You should aim at twenty minutes max. That requires tremendous discipline, especially if you’re in an organisation with a lot of people in the mix. But remember that a speech about everything is a speech about nothing. Narrow your story down to the essential point.

3.  Always address the arguments against your position during your presentation, not after.

Especially in politics it is important to think about the objections you will encounter. “You should find them and address them during your speech. When Obama was trying to deliver his Health Care Reform Plan in 2009, the most important part of his speech was to find the arguments that the Republicans would think of and contradict them.”

4.  Empathy is key

Just knowing your audience is not enough, Favreau said. “You have to know what the world looks like when you are in their shoes. One of the reasons why Obama’s speeches are so successful is because they are written in the language that his audience understands, addressing the issues they are facing.”

5.  There is no persuasion without inspiration

Emotion is the most important element of motivating an audience, according to Favreau: “The best way to connect with people is through stories that are important to people’s lives. In the victory speech in 2008 we had a clear message: sometimes change can come slow, but change is always possible and history has proved that.”

Favreau-Obama-SpeechFavreau and Obama decided to use a special story about a woman named Ann Nixon Cooper:

She’s a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing – Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons – because she was a woman and because of the colour of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America – the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes, we can.

Favreau decided to give Ann Nixon Cooper a call before using her story in the speech: “I told her that man who was about to become President wanted to name her in his victory speech. She paused for a while and asked: ‘Will it be on television?’ I said ‘yes’. She waited a little longer. ‘Which channel will it be on?’, she asked, so I told her. That was when she said ‘I’m so proud of him, I’m so proud of us’. She started crying and so did I and at exactly that moment the results from Ohio came in. That was when I realised that it would always be difficult to bring about change but that it can happen if we believe.”

It is clear that we as humans love stories and the connection it brings to our lives.  Learn to tell stories and cement them with facts, anecdotes and logic.

Trevor Ambrose
Director | Presentation & Sales Training
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