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10 Presentation Tips from US Presidents

These are some presentation tips to help you give an effective presentation in English. Who better to learn from than well-known figures in the White House? Whatever your presentation, it has to be less pressure than a presidential speech.

If you had put your money on the greatest speakers in history, who would you bet on? We can guess the least diplomatic, but let’s not go there.

John F. Kennedy style presentations

Recognised as the most eloquent US President in history, John F. Kennedy clearly had “the gift of the gab”.

Tip 1: Do your research

Numbers show good research, but they can become confusing. Kennedy effectively brought big figures down to earth.

“The unemployment rate had gone down 23 percent in the last year and a half. This means that about a million people who were unemployed now have jobs.”

He could have just given the dry statistic, but instead he talked about the people behind the statistic, which is more relevant to the audience. Also, give the numbers, then you, as the expert, can explain their significance.

Tip 2: Consider your audience

If you’re giving a presentation to your team, managers, or clients, it is expected to use the jargon (language) that’s specific to your industry. However, in general, keep the language simple so that everyone can understand.

Tip 3: Storytelling

This is a simple but effective way to engage the audience, everyone hears the word “story” and their ears open. Kennedy used analogies (stories to illustrate a point) to simplify complex concepts. Anecdotes are stories from your experience, that are short, interesting or funny, and if you choose carefully, they can really capture the audience’s attention. Consider using Kennedy’s detail-anecdote-detail-anecdote approach to liven up your presentations.

Barack Obama style presentations

Tip 4: Make eye contact

Make eye contact with everyone in the room (scary as this may be). Even though Obama’s speeches ran on a teleprompter, he didn’t stare at it the entire time. Obama’s approach was to glance (look quickly) at his notes, make eye contact, and then glance at his notes again.

Tip 5: Have a conversation

Barack Obama is a great speaker because he delivers the speech as if having a conversation with the audience.

Try to stay flexible, so if something comes up during the presentation, like a comment or question, don’t just charge ahead with the next slide, respond appropriately. You’ve got the audience engaged, this is great!

Tip 6: Don’t read your notes

Avoid looking at your notes for too long and don’t ever read a speech word-for-word. This comes across as robotic and impersonal and it’s very easy to lose your place. You can refer to notes during the presentation, but keep these ideas in point form (not full sentences) to help you remember the important things that you want to say.

Tip 7: PowerPoint and infographics

Alternatively, compile your ideas in presentation slides. However, don’t put too many words on the slides and never read the slides word-for-word. It’s likely that your audience can read for themselves! Rather paraphrase the slides or use them as cues so you know what to talk about next.

Let your slides do the talking with photographs and visuals. Infographics are a great way to convey information by combining text and images.

Tip 8: Use humour

Obama wasn’t afraid to use humour occasionally, which you can too. However, be careful to avoid jokes that offend people. Everyone loves to laugh, so lighten the tone with a cartoon or a funny story.

Michelle Obama style speeches

Unfortunately, there have been no female US presidents to date, so here are some tips from Michelle Obama, former First Lady, and leader in her own right. (Watch “Becoming”, an uplifting documentary and famous book).

Tip 9: Start on a positive note

What I appreciate about Michelle Obama is how she avoids the overused problem-solution approach to presentations by starting her speeches on a positive note. For example, when she spoke at Fortune 500’s Most Powerful Women Summit, she made a grand entrance walking onto the stage with “This girl is on fire” playing in the background. She started by talking about the improvements in education for girls around the world. The positive stuff. Only 2 minutes and 20 seconds later did she start discussing future challenges and how to address them.

Adapt this strategy by starting on a positive note, talking about recent progress of some good news. Then you can dive into the work that needs to be done. Consider using music to create an atmosphere.

Tip 10: Prepare well and practise

It’s natural to be self-conscious in front of an audience. Prepare well and practise your presentation with a friend. Keep in mind that many native speakers get nervous before presentations too. Even presidents.

To summarise, do your research, consider your audience and tell stories. My eye contact, have a conversation, don’t read your notes, use visuals, infographics and humour. Start on a positive note, prepare well and practise.


By Leigh-Anne Hunter

Check our other blog with more tips for effective presentations here.

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