WCL Insights: Great Presenters Are Made, Not Born

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Great Presenters Are Made, Not Born

By Sue Parham, WCL Executive Director

 There were a few things that made my day at the 2019 TEDx Portland event this spring. The greatest was proof that presenters are, for the most part, made, not born. It was clear that every presenter on the stage had successfully worked to refine their message into a unique presentation that reflected them.

Here are a few ideas that we can all integrate into our next presentation:

TURN FACTS OR IDEAS INTO EXAMPLES AND PICTURES. Steve Oldham presented a technology that captures CO2 and recycles it into transportation fuel. This could have been a very technical talk, but Steve has a penchant for creating pictures.

For example, he told us, 1. “We have about 12 years” to act on this problem. To show what we can accomplish in that time, he cited the iPhone, which was introduced just 12 years ago and is now owned by one-third of the planet. (Could that be possible?) 2. One of the physical plants he is proposing to build to recycle the CO2 does equal the work of “40 million trees.” 3. He explained that the government has experience regulating to save lives. Ninety years ago, illness was transported through water. To stop this, the government instituted water treatment plants and regulations. The parallel, of course, is that we should do this now with CO2. 4. He illustrated the cost to build the plants -- 1% of the GDP, “or less than we spend on Christmas, or on alcohol in America each year.” All of these illustrations simplified the ideas in his speech and made them sticky.

BE CLEAR. A favorite presentation came from Paloma Medina, not because she was the best speaker but because she was clear and passionate. Paloma quoted JFK: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade.” She noted that he didn’t say build a committee, or a plan, but go…. She says goals must be verbalized, measurable and time-bound. She provided a clear thesis: to change the goal from diversity to racial and gender equity in hiring procedures in three years. Her voice wasn’t loud, and her language wasn’t perfect, but you could tell she passionately believed in what she was saying: “We are wired for fairness.” She supported her point with the video of the now famous Capuchin monkey fairness experiment.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO BEAT YOUR CHEST TO BE GOOD. Tyler Malek has created more than 600 flavors of ice cream for Salt and Straw. He instantly had the audience in the palm of his hand, because he was self-deprecating -- in a good way. He shared two stories, one of insecurity and the other of validation. In spite of his success, he still struggles to call himself a “creative.” In fact, he feels like a fraud when people use that term, but he believes that creativity can be learned in a “logical and systematic way.” He has done this brilliantly, as demonstrated by his sweet slides that were the hit of the show. His final takeaway was that “criticism, especially self-criticism, fights innovation.”

DON’T RUN WHEN YOU ARE DONE. There was a clear difference between those who “stuck their finish” like a gymnast and awaited the reward of applause and those who ran off stage. Finish like you mean it!

SIMPLE SLIDES ARE AS IMPACTFUL AS THOSE THAT ARE ELABORATE. Some of the best slides were those that created curiosity. David Peyton used big numbers to create anticipation. 189, 157, 173!

STORYTELLING CAPTIVATES. Every presenter made it to that stage because they weren’t afraid to tell their story. Carine Kanimba escaped the genocide of Rawanda, Rachel Knox, MD, was not satisfied with western medicines’ “A pill for the ill”, and Duncan Campbell escaped his far-from-perfect childhood to be a champion for children. Don’t hesitate to share your story. It is what connects us.