How to make the best of your business presentation – act like a president

So, America has re-elected President Obama for a second term and he marked the occasion with a rousing acceptance speech. You can read or listen to it on the BBC News website.

I love to hear President Obama speak. He comes across as a very fine communicator. So I thought I’d take a closer look at his latest speech to see what tips and tricks he uses and how they can help you with your business presentations.

Firstly, listen to his language. This is a highly educated, well-informed man who spends a lot of time in discussions with similar high-powered politicians. I’m sure President Obama understands words like synergy and leverage, but they are not the kind of words he uses here. Instead he opts for simple, straightforward words – the kind of language regular people use every day.

If you have a point to make, making sure everyone can understand what you’re saying and doesn’t get baffled by jargon is a good start.

Within his opening address, he talks of moving forward and repeats the phrase ‘moves forward’ three times. ‘Forward’ was his campaign slogan, so it’s a nice nod to the promises he’s made on the campaign trail.

But the pattern of three is important too. You’ll find numerous examples in this speech where a word or phrase is repeated three times. For example, “We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America.” It adds impact and a rhythm that appeals to the ears.

You’ll often find this pattern of three in speeches and presentations. Shakespeare is littered with examples – “Friends, Romans, countrymen…” Steve Jobs used it in his keynote presentations. Politicians do it all the time.

It’s memorable. Something about the way our brains work makes three things easier to recall than six or eight. If you’re looking for people to hold things in their mind in the short term, then three is the ideal number.

It’s easy to see this kind of thing when you read the speech, but it’s important to remember that it’s meant to be listened to, not read. If you’re speaking to an audience, patterns of speech and repetitions can help draw their attention to particular points.

Now think about the setting as well as the content of this speech for a moment. Obama’s on a winning podium surrounded by his supporters, so he’s pretty much assured of a rousing reception. But he’s just one man, using his voice and body language to make his point. No slides, no props.

So what does he do? How does he carry the audience with him? He tells stories.

It’s all very well talking about big ideas, but Obama knows we need something real and tangible, something we can picture in our minds. So he speaks about “The determination in the voice of a young field organiser who’s working his way through college,” and “The pride in the voice of a volunteer who’s going door to door because her brother was finally hired when the local auto plant added another shift.”

These little slices of life paint pictures that help humanise the big themes, make them real and personal.

There’s another tip for you. Stories are a great way to illustrate an idea and win empathy from your audience. A real, personal anecdote can carry great weight – just like the story Obama tells about the family with the young daughter with leukemia makes a point about his healthcare reforms.

So, if you have a speech or presentation to make, there is a lot you could learn from one of the masters like Obama. Choose simple, concrete language; use selected repetition and speech patterns and don’t forget the power of stories to forge an emotional connection with your audience.

Michelle Nicol, Copywriter