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Presentation Tips – How a great speech can be improved.

Have you seen this: Sir Ken Robinson at TED

It’s quite a famous speech. It’s been watched 11 million times. I only saw it for the first time about 10 days ago, which is odd because I’m fascinated by education theory, public speaking, and the encouragement of creativity in young people.

When I watched it I enjoyed it as much as any speech I have seen in recent times. It’s funny, has some killer jokes (the idea of being Shakespeare’s English teacher is marvellous) and makes some good points.

But having watched it I immediately started thinking about the medium, not the message. My job is to help people communicate in ways that makes people do things. Usually choose our team over another that is probably also qualified to do the job in hand.

So what I did was wait. I waited to see how much I had retained some 10 days later. Because if you want people to do something as a result of what you say, then they have to remember what it was they were meant to do.

So what did Sir Ken want his audience to do? And my answer is, I don’t know.

I would guess that his reaction would be “I wanted the audience of (largely) professionals to think.” And that’s fine. I’m guessing that as an audience they were hugely above average in intellect, and his talk was deliberately challenging the schema and beliefs they have established in their working lives. So he was challenging things they probably “knew” but he was relying on them doing the work.

But nevertheless, he did presumably want them to do something – change their thinking, change their attitudes, change, maybe, their policy.

Be explicit

So that brings me to my first point. At Grist we have a mantra: You must say it.

We all seem to want to lay out the argument and then get the audience to fill in the conclusion. We believe that’s wrong. If you want them to vote for you, you say: Vote for me. And you tell them exactly why. If you want them to choose your company over others you say: We want you to choose us. And you tell them exactly why.

The opposite is this: We have lots of experience working on projects like this one.

So what? That’s just a fact. What’s your point?

Try again: We have lots of experience working on projects like this one so that means we will bring the learning from those projects, and the tried and tested team, so not only will we deliver on time and on budget, but we will have the knowledge to find new ways of improving on what we’ve already done.

Death by Powerpoint

My second point is that even if Sir Ken had done almost exactly the same text I think it would have been better if he had used a few slides.

What can I remember of the speech 10 days later?

Dance. Dancer’s trip to someone who said “She hasn’t got an illness (was that right?) she’s a dancer. (great line) Shakespeare’s English teacher. Oh Lord I’m struggling. Now I feel stupid. “No one does dance every day” And finally, the point (I think) we discourage creative aspects of education over the “sensible” things that “get you a proper job”. Which was something that really resonates with me as I have children who haven’t been great at other things than “classical” subjects.

I think some clear slides of how we might change the way things are, which surely must have been Sir Ken’s intention, would have helped me remember more 10 days later.

Personally I love a clear visual – I wasn’t in Radio but television for 20 years, so I like the pictures. And vitally, I’m not alone. There are those, 2 at least are in my own immediate family who will ignore a picture and firstly listen, but they aren’t everyone. Lot’s of people are like me.

So I apologise for appearing to criticise Sir Ken’s marvellous talk. Beautifully written. Beautifully delivered. But think it could have been more effective, despite the obvious point that being watched 11 million times is clear evidence that it has some effect. But I’m not having a go at someone I respect and admire, but debating how you can be most effective in your communication.

This doesn’t mean it has to be death by Powerpoint. I don’t think Hamlet’s soliloquy would be better with this slide.

Please tell me what you think. I’d love to know.


About gristpresent

Presentation, Q&A and Engagement Coach. We help you win more business. Also BAFTA-winning film maker. See our new site www.grist.co.uk


3 thoughts on “Presentation Tips – How a great speech can be improved.

  1. Ive watched Sir Kens video numerous times! So would add a point I nicked from Sir Winston Churchill. Make your point make, it again, make it with a sledge hammer if you have to!
    My recall, and the public’s recall of sales and marketing messages is aided by repetition, hence in radio land (and TV for that matter) even the greatest ads need to be repeated to a pre set level before the advertiser would expect recall and therefore action.
    I take your broader point, though I would challenge it a little.
    I train these days to ‘perform’ the presentation, not so much use it as a formal method to communicate multiple points, more an opportunity to deliver simple straight forward messages (like buy from me!) in a creative and hopefully memorable way.
    I know, as I deliver the same systems training sessions over and over, the missing ingredient for retention of the information is repetition. I gave up expecting sales people to remember precisely the multiple points I was trying to make in favour of trying to leave an impression of what I was trying to get to, knowing I can repeat it the next time I see them and the time after that to increase the impact and as I mentioned the vital recall.
    Watch Sir Ken’s talk a few more times, I’ll guarantee you’ll take a lot more from it! Especially the central theme, that schools are effectively educating us out of creativity, a simple, powerful message beautifully delivered in the, as you mentioned, creative, funny way that he did.
    Thanks as ever for a thought provoking piece!

    Posted by Tony Dowling | July 1, 2012, 6:39 pm
    • Thanks Tony,

      I think I did get the core message pretty well – it is a great speech.
      But it was a message I was well inclined to hear. My children are good at things like film-making, script-writing, and one is very good at rugby and art (go figure)
      So I liked the core message, but that actually makes me a poor subject for this experiment because of confirmation bias, or “a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest” as a great man once wrote.

      Absolutely agree with the repetition point. Weird things stand out in speeches – usually the weirdest thing so it is much more likely that people will remember you told the story about the parrot than your core point.
      So repeat your core point many times.

      I will watch Sir Ken again, but my TEST was of one watching, which is the reality in most people’s experience.
      Many thanks for the comment. Love to debate.

      Posted by gristpresent | July 1, 2012, 6:48 pm
  2. My first rule of creating a key message: “Never underestimate the ability of an audience to completely miss the point!”

    Your example demonstrates it beautifully; a great speech, beautifully delivered, but no clear goal or outcome for the audience to grip onto.

    Steve Jobs was a master at it. He’d have a string key message, and just hammer it home so effectively that everyone left the theatre repeating it like a mantra.

    Posted by Peter | July 1, 2012, 8:30 pm

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