Saturday, November 12, 2011

Tips for Presentation

Next weekend, I am going to present the Presidential Address at the American Academy of Religion, since I serve as the president of the organization for 2011. The title of my address will be “Empire and the Study of Religion.” I have already finished writing the paper, so I have time to think about how to present it.

Some time ago when I passed through a bookstore at an airport, I saw a book that analyzes why Steve Jobs’ keynotes to launch new Apple products were so great. I went to look for the book at a local bookstore. The title is The Presentation Secret of Steve Jobs.

I learned a lot from the book and from observing others making great speeches.

  • Look at the audience. Jobs seldom stood behind a lectern reading a text. He moved on the stage and established rapport with his audience. He used a lectern for his Stanford commencement address in 2005, but he looked at the crowd frequently. Body language matters and your face conveys as much as 20 percent of your message. Babies learn much by looking at your face.

  • Provide a road map. In his commencement address, he said, “Today, I want to tell you three stories from my life.” And he proceeded to tell them.

  • Tell the audience why they should care. Your audience has one question in mind, “Why should I care?” You have to answer this at the beginning of your talk to pique people’s interest.

  • Use a conversational tone. We know the ways that techies speak or write. Full of gibberish. We understand little and remember none. Use plain English and a conversational tune. Avoid unnecessary jargons.


  • Speak with passion. If you speak with confidence and passion, people will respond more to what you have to say. If you really don’t care what you are saying, why should other people care?

  • Use visuals wisely. Jobs used very simple slides. No bullet points and not more than a few words on each slide. People come to listen to you. They have not come to read texts on the slides.

  • Create an unexpected moment. Jobs’ presentations always had a WOW moment. In the launch of Macintosh, the computer spoke. To stress the thinness of Macbook Air, he casually pulled one out from within a manila envelope.

  • Obey the ten-minute rule. This is really hard for academics. According to numerous researches, people’s brains wonder and their attention span lasts for only 10-15 minutes. Jobs rarely made long speeches. His Stanford address was 14.11 minutes long. He would do a demo or invite others to share the stage. If you need to make a lecture of 40 minutes, good luck! You have to find ways to capture people’s attention.

  • Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Jobs made it look so easy, but he rehearsed the presentation for days. His attention to details was legendary. He asked the technician to change the lighting so that the iMac’s translucent color could be shown perfectly.

  • One more thing. Jobs often concluded his keynotes by saying “one more thing.” How do you want to conclude your talk? What do you want to leave on people’s mind?

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