Mitch Albom, author of the wildly popular Tuesdays with Morrie, is known for dispensing life wisdom that resonates with audiences worldwide. But at his talk at the Miami Book Fair in November, he served up valuable lessons about great presentations. Albom introduced his latest novel, The Stranger in the Lifeboat, with an impressive and memorable array of audiovisuals: video clips, song lyrics, still photos, and personal stories well told. He cleverly connected the dots to position the big idea of the book:
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you’ll find
You get what you need
With a little help from God, that is.
Link the Rolling Stones to the fictional story about ten shipwrecked survivors in a lifeboat who find a young stranger in the middle of the ocean who claims to be the Lord, and you have my attention.
But there is more. Albom also used vocal variety, self-deprecating humor, presence, and proficiency at the lectern to inspire the audience gathered that day in person and live streaming at home.
I watched from the second row, scribbling notes to include in my next presentation skills workshop. “Don’t be boring,” I tell my clients. Albom gave me teachable examples of sparkling content and delivery that business leaders can use in their own presentations.
Let me plot Albom’s talk against the four planning steps for powerful presentations online and in-person:
Understand who is in the audience and how they will respond to your topic. Albom was addressing bibliophiles who are already familiar with more than a dozen titles he has penned. He wove his signature themes into the unveiling of his new novel to tap the established bonds with his readers.
Albom added emotional appeal by telling heartfelt stories and sharing family photos. He spoke tenderly about his former sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz, who was dying of ALS when they spent Tuesdays together. He celebrated the short life of his beloved Chika Jeune, his adopted daughter from Haiti who died of a brain tumor at age 7. And he traced the twists and turns of his own professional journey with modesty and candor.
been shown to increase comprehension and retention of verbal messages by a factor of 6The author used humor to illustrate how when you ask for help it doesn’t always come the way you want it. He went back and forth in time and built suspense about the ending of The Stranger in the Lifeboat.
Albom carefully curated his audiovisuals and graphics to match the technology available. He mixed up his content by using home movies, still photos, audio clips, song lyrics, media interviews, and movie trailers to add spice to his talk and keep the audience engrossed.
Albom gestured appropriately to amplify feelings and emphasize storylines. He varied the volume, pace, and pitch of his voice to establish a dialogue with key figures in his narratives. He exuded confidence and presence and displayed empathy towards real-life and fictional characters, as well as his audience.
Business leaders take note: You, too, can bring these techniques to your own presentations.
How can you check if you risk being boring? Presentation expert and author Nancy Duarte has a golden rule: “Never deliver a presentation you wouldn’t want to sit through.”
We can all learn a great deal by watching professional presenters like Mitch Albom. The key is knowing how to watch and listen to extract the nuggets of insight.
PRO TIP: You can glean many presentation tips from TED and TEDx talks. But you need to learn how to do it.
TED is still the gold standard for stage presentations of substance. The slogan, “ideas worth spreading” implies that the expert speakers have thought-provoking content to offer. There are thousands of global TED and local TEDx talks available to watch online.
Search for topics that interest you and observe how the speakers unfold their ideas or points of view:
- What are they saying that is unique and significant?
- What is the big idea, is it clear and understandable?
- What can I steal from their presentation structure and delivery?
- Did they use props and presentation media effectively?
- Did their body language match the emotional appeal of their content?
- Did they open the talk with a riveting question to hook you in?
- Did they close with a call to action to enlist you to their cause?
Watch and listen. Here are three of my favorites:
1. Molly Wright: How every child can thrive by 5. “What if I was to tell you that a game of peek-a-boo could change the world? asks the seven-year-old Australian, one of the youngest TED speakers ever. She uses a real-life baby as a prop to make her point.
2. Julian Treasure: How to speak so that people want to listen. “How can we speak powerfully to make change in the world?” This 5-time TED speaker gets the audience on their feet to perform vocal warmup exercises.
3. Bill Gates: The next outbreak? We’re not ready. Gates wheels a huge barrel of nuclear war survival supplies on stage to open this prophetic talk from 2015. “If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war.” Using sophisticated graphics and compelling data, he sounds the wake-up call to get ready for the next epidemic.
Now, search for your own favorites. Dissect them to understand what makes them special. Take notes and find tips you can apply to your own speeches and presentations.