Four years ago, I wrote a blog post “Obama and the rule of three“, in which I analyzed the previous American president’s re-election speech and praised his public speaking skills. Incidentally, over the past months – guess why? – this article has become one of the most frequently visited titles on my B2B Storytelling pages. Since then, an awful lot has changed, and the US as well as the rest of the world are getting used to living in the new, Trumpian reality.
I honestly admit that I’m not a fan of the 45th President of the United States. Neither of the person, nor of his political doctrine, nor of his deeds since January 20. But as Donald Trump was elected by kind of democratic process, he also deserves kind of credit.Tomorrow he will deliver his first State of the Union address. An occasion to zoom in on the newly-on-duty POTUS’ presentation skills.
Surely, Mr. Trump isn’t the eloquent orator that Barack Obama was, though in my honest opinion he is definitely not a bad communicator. Note that from the writing perspective of this blog, I’m only assessing his communication style, not his content nor his use of (alternative) facts and figures – which would put me on too thin ice. When analyzing his public talks, I think I’d rather associate him to a “rule of one” than to a rule of three: as a speaker, he systematically puts his one-self in the center; his person seems to be more prominent than his words or his audience.
There are common practices that seem to come back in every speech the president delivers. Some of them are so striking that they have become fodder for effective Trump parodies:
- He has a clear and strong voice and uses simple, often sloganesque, language with short and declarative sentences. This is an appropriate habit, considering DJT’s target audience and key messages. His one-liners like “make America great again” and “let’s build that wall” have the same magnitude of emotional impact as Obama’s “yes, we can”.
- The words he uses are congruent with his message, and he consistently repeats them. After analyzing 95,000 words used in campaign speeches, the New York Times concluded that “the most striking hallmark was Mr. Trump’s constant repetition of divisive phrases, harsh words and violent imagery that American presidents rarely use…”
- The new US president (figuratively and literally) tries to take a maximum amount of space. His alpha male body language, facial expression, and hand gestures are compatible with his overall message. Take, for example, his index finger pointing in the air while putting his second finger and thumb together (accentuating he’s right and the others are totally wrong), his thumb-and-forefinger pinch (that signals precision and control), and his pneumatic drill movements (to hammer the point he’s making home.)
Donald J. Trump has only been on duty for six weeks. Probably we ain’t seen or heard nothing yet. But, whether you agree with his politics or not, you can’t argue that he isn’t a good communicator.
More opinions and analysis:
Body language can be a powerful communication tool. Sometimes a (mysterious, naïve, smart, candid, …) smile may tell you more than a hundred words.
Only a few days ago I saw this news video on TV. Confronted with US president-elect Donald Trump calling Brexit “a great thing,” and suggesting that more European countries would leave the EU, the European Commission’s chief spokesperson gave this simple statement: “We have read this interview with interest,” and complemented his answer by an (IMHO) priceless, all-saying smile.
Pressed by a journalist if this was all the Commission had to say about the issues Trump had raised, the speaker confirmed his earlier reply by a short and dry “yes.”
I think I clearly understood the message. And probably many Europeans with me…
Penguins are great swimmers. But when it comes to moving on land, they are neither the fastest nor the most elegant animals. Their short legs are simply not made for running or walking. Though most scientists agree that waddling is the best way for a such short-legged animal to conserve mechanical energy.
Penguins can be cute, but they will also never be good presenters. Their silly walks and low gestures would distract the audience and draw people’s eyes away from their face. If you watch for it, you may catch human presenters doing a clumsy imitation of penguins. Waddling nervously over the podium, their hands fluttering at their waist.
A study carried out by Dr. Albert Mehrabian revealed that only a mere 7% of any message is conveyed through actual words, 38% through vocal elements like volume and pitch, and 55% through facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc. I don’t want to get involved in a numbers game (there has been a lot of discussion on the web about the meaning of these percentages), but this study is certainly underlining the importance of nonverbal elements when communicating with any audience.
- Adopt a neutral and open stance. Have a locked start position. Be aware where you stand. Do not obscure the screen. Walk with purpose. Use a clicker. Never turn your back the people in the room (yes, this may mean that you won’t be able to read the slides projected behind you). Use your hands to point to what’s interesting on the screen (instead of a nervously jumping laser pointer beam.)
- Stand tall, keep your head up. Keep the “gesture zone” beside and in front of your upper body half (remember the penguins!) The bigger the audience, the bigger the gestures you should make. Take benefit from the adrenaline in your body. But be conscious of what you do with your hands (and with your remote control.)
- Body language and facial expression should match your message. Stay natural. Smile, nod, make open gestures. Make eye contact with your listeners. Don’t gesture constantly, but let your emotions drive your gestures. Vary your gestures to keep your audience’s attention.
“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” ― Dale Carnegie
I am aware that many of you may suffer from glossophobia, or fear of public speaking. But honestly, if you have invested enough time in defining your pitch and preparing your presentation there’s really not that much left to worry about.
- Make sure to avoid unpleasant surprises. Arrive at the venue well in time, get familiar with the room in which you will present, and check the A/V equipment before your start. And when you’re planning a demo, dry-run it a few minutes ― not a few hours! ― in advance.
- Go on stage with a positive attitude. Don’t get paralyzed by stage fright. You know that you can do it! Take a deep breath before you start and give the audience what they came for.
- Start with a short silence. Then grab your audience’s attention from the first second onward. Surprise, intrigue or provoke them with an opening statement or poll.
- As I have explained in many of my older blog posts, when you give a presentation, you need to get your audience engaged. Appeal to their emotions, by telling a personal story. A good practice is to try to make eye contact with a few individuals in the audience and monitor their body language.
- But, watch your own body language and nonverbal communication too. Your tone of voice, volume of speech, as well as your facial expression, stance and gestures should add to or complement your verbal message.
- Speak in short sentences and pause often. Pause right before a key point to create a sense of anticipation. Pause right after a key point to allow it to sink in. And, most importantly, don’t forget to breathe.
- Take care of your speaking time. Ask a time keeper in the audience to give you a five or ten minute warning. If you feel you’re going to run over time, adapt your story and/or your pace, or consider skipping details and less meaningful slides.
- Concentrate on the message — not the medium. Only present your own pitch and show the slides you prepared yourself. Don’t let the visuals dominate your talk. Never read your slides aloud: most people in the room already know how to read!
- Be aware where you stand, don’t obscure the screen, and don’t turn your back to the audience. When you like to move around on stage, make sure you use a remote control device (that’s why I always carry a clicker on me, along with a spare battery ― prevention is better than cure.)
- End your presentation in a powerful way. Your closing is your chance to leave a final impression on the audience. Don’t lose energy. Don’t change style. Don’t stop cold. Summarize your main ideas and key points. And call the people in the room to action.
This ends my series of articles about the 3 P’s. Do you still know what they stand for? If you want to be a professional public presenter, then take control of your pitch, your preparation and your presentation.
Other articles about planning and delivering your presentation: