Will Obama’s Victory speech change the way people present for the better? And does that mean more acceptance of Apple’s Keynote software as the tool of choice?

This week in Melbourne we’ve observed, neigh(!), participated in two races: a 22 horse race known as the Melbourne Cup, and a two horse race in the US, which will have a far greater impact on the world’s future than the horse race.

Nonetheless, in an ironic twist, so iconic has the Melbourne Cup become (it is the second richest race in the world after the Dubai Cup), that Victorians have a public holiday! Yes, we get a day off from work in celebration of a horse race, while the rest of Australia works. It’s not called “The race that stops a nation” for nothing!

This day off gave me time at home to further prepare some presentations, and try and get my Macworld 2009 workbook ready for publication. From it and my blogs, I hope I can publish a book (in print or pdf) which details some of my thoughts and actions when it comes to presentations.

You see, I believe being able to present well, whether it’s at a conference for scientists, or a small business proposal meeting to raise funds, be it a CEO delivering at an annual shareholders’ meeting, or yes, a Presidential candidate trying to get your vote, it is a fundamental 21st century skill. It’s also one of the most feared modern human activities! I count myself lucky to have had much exposure when I was young to presenting, whether it be in class at school or college, or on radio, in print, or on TV. I feel comfortable in all media, and indeed have taught media management skills previously.

When a tool like Keynote comes along, as it did in 2003, one grasps it fiercely, having recognised its qualities to elicit emotional responses to message delivery, quite at variance to the dominant message delivery platform for presentations, Powerpoint. Yes, I have seen bad Keynote and good Powerpoint, but each is rare!

With Obama winning on Tuesday, we were witnesses to two very important speeches: Obama’s victory speech, and McCain’s concession speech. Each was a emotional symbol of the man’s character, as I heard and felt them.

McCain revisited himself, without the weight of the Republican party hopes resting on his shoulders. Here in Australia, the power of the former conservative government was in keeping its factions in check, while pointing to the opposition’s “ownership” by powerful trade unions (sound familiar to my US colleagues?) in over-riding more moderate progressives within the party.

This year, the Republican factions became all too obvious and those more moderate Republicans and swinging independents refused to hear the same old FUD (see my previous blog entry, comments and all).

While Sarah Palin impressed many at the Republican Convention and held her own during the single Vice-Presidential debate, it was clear to me she had been well-rehearsed and coached, and had much presence and appeal.

But in her one-on-one interviews, her lack of depth, both intellectual and political, was on show for all to see. Like actors, she was only as good as her last performance, and while many will hold on to her initial presentation at the Convention, her later performances with the likes of Katie Couric and the merciless parodies by Tina Fey will likely see Gov. Palin reduced to a page on Wikipedia.

Obama left his best speech until last, following McCain’s concession speech, which you can see him watching below, courtesy of a Flikr link here.

Obama watches McCain's concession speech

Obama watches McCain

While those who had kept an eye and ear on Obama since 2004 knew he was going places through his oratory and passion, it’s only in these last two years and in particularly these last few months when many have really listened to the man speak.

His speech on Tuesday night in Grant Park, Chicago, will be listened to again and again, for all manner of reasons. It reminded me of one of my slides from my Macworld 2008 presentation, which I modelled on this book, below:

Peak Performance Presentations

Peak Performance Presentations

In my presentation, I wanted to remind the audience that we ought not rely on technology to help us be persuasive. That like lead actors, we need to use technology as support acts to help us get our message across, not be the message. Initially, I showed a humourous video of technology gone wrong, then referred to a blank slide where I reminded the audience that some of the most memorable and influential speeches in living (and recorded) memory came without technological assistance (albeit with microphones).

On a blank slide, I brought in a panel showing Winston Churchill behind a microphone, accompanied by a his voice: “We will fight them on the beaches….”

This slide occupied the left third of the screen, such that audience members were now expecting the other two thirds to be filled with more speeches. I then showed a picture of JFK behind the microphone on the slide’s right third, with his voice saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you…”.

This left the middle panel to be filled.

I chose to fill it with Martin Luther King behind the microphone, with his voice: “I have a dream…”

It was a powerful moment in the Macworld presentation, and I was taken back to that moment when I listened to Obama’s speech on Wednesday, my time. No doubt in a future presentation, I will likely include parts of it, perhaps leaving Churchill to one side, especially if I’m working with a youngish audience.

There are any number of phrases to select:

“It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.”

“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you – we as a people will get there.”

“And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world – our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.”

And while it’s long, these three paragraphs, with their story telling, and emotionality, will no doubt bring a tear to some:

“This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that’s on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She’s a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing – Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons – because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America – the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.”

And while I will show a picture of Obama when we hear his voice, as the audio concludes, I’ll transit to this picture of Jesse Jackson listening to the speech (I think a very slow dissolve will add to the emotionality), and no doubt many in the audience familiar with him will be empathising with his feelings, knowing his struggles and how his hopes have now been realised.

jackson
You see, even though I might be telegraphing what I will do in a future presentation, it won’t spoil the emotions of the moment nor the persuasiveness of slide and my commentary.

What this all means is that we now have a President who is an orator of the first order, unlike the incumbent President Bush, whom Dave Letterman pillories each night in his “Great Moments in Presidential Speeches” parody.

My prediction is that now more than ever is the time when expectations of giving great presentations, whether in scientific or academic conferences, in business or in ministries and schools, will peak. Lacklustre Powerpoint-based “shows” will no longer cut it.

This will be the case especially in schools and colleges. This election had a huge turn out of young people, some voting for the first time, impressed no doubt with the change desired by so many, together with Obama clear technological savvy  with his exemplary use of SMS,  Facebook, iApps for the iPhone and so on.

This is a cohort who are themselves media savvy, creating their own entertainment and news reporting, and it is this group who will reject long winded, passionless speeches and bullet point-riddled presentations with accompanying chintzy clip art and moronic “beanie” people. This is the group who take megapixel-sharp photos with their cellphones, and share them on Flickr and Facebook.

This group will expect their teachers and figures of authority to present well, and Obama has set a very high standard indeed. Expect an increase in enrolments in speech coaching groups like Toastmasters.

But just as importantly, this is a group very switched on to the Mac, which as you know comes bundled when purchased with a trial copy of iWork and thus Keynote.

I’m guessing in the next update of Keynote we will see even more movement to a merging of Keynote and elements of iMovie and Garageband. We have already seen how the current version of Keynote has numerous export options suitable for podcasting. But I also expect to see more tools to help Keynote help you create memorable presentations. Like most things Apple, it will guide its users to be more creative, then get out of their way when they need to be centre stage.

This is why Paul Kent, MD of Macworld, and who invited me to present at once more at Macworld 2009, is such a smart guy.  But he has made life tough for me. He knows he wants my Powertools workshop to evoke the same reaction as this year’s presentation, where I showed Keynote in action rather than talked directly about it (to the disappointment of about 10% of the audience, judging by the evaluations).

But he also asked me to show how I go about thinking and creating with Keynote, so you get to see how the magic happens. Unlike a magician who never gives away his or her secrets, I am in my element sharing my knowledge, receiving feedback, and showing how to do things differently. Not just to be oppositional, but because my way of doing things differently is a better match for what the science of persuasion and influence tells us.

Teaching presentation skills is so much more than teaching the mechanics of how software works, which seems to be how so many workshops on Powerpoint operate.

Over to you now… regardless of your political persuasion and whether you think Obama’s actions can match his rhetoric, what do you think about my central thesis, that he has raised expectations for anyone who wishes to speak to an audience?

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6 responses to “Will Obama’s Victory speech change the way people present for the better? And does that mean more acceptance of Apple’s Keynote software as the tool of choice?

  1. I’d like to say that Obama hasn’t had anything to do with this, but really, we haven’t had anybody with such talent for public speaking in a long, long time. It’s good that we’re once again exposed to such a high level of speaking. David Letterman’s writers are going to have a harder time looking for quotes for their “Great Moments in Presidential Speeches” routine.

    I’ve been told, “The length of your speech should be in proportion with how important it is. The Gettysburg Address was actually pretty short, and I don’t think very many of us have anything more important to say than Lincoln did.”

    I’ve sat through long, long speeches for occasions that had no affect on anything on the other side of the street. I’ve been subjected to slide shows where the presenter merely recited the slides (neither Powerpoint nor Keynote are immune to this) and gave very little extra information.

    It’s not about the technology, it’s not about the number of words — it’s the quality of the content and of the act of presenting that counts. The best lecture class I had in college had the professor saying, “Write this down:”, and give us the relevant phrase. Then he engaged us (“engage” is such a cheeseball word to use, but it applies this time) and made sure we knew what the heck he was talking about.

    Don’t let technology get in your way, and don’t think it’ll work for you, either. Remember that Obama didn’t show a single slide in the speech you’re discussing here.

  2. We’re in almost total agreement, Leland. One fear I have is that Obama sets the bar so high, unaided by slides (but using the technology of the invisible autocue) that some will give up and use slides more than ever.
    And of course the other fear leading to disappointment is that he does “great talk”, but doing the walk proves much more difficult.

  3. Great orators make great leaders when they are rallying the troops and leading the nation into battle.

    When it comes to governing a nation in less stressful times, even Churchill had difficulties.

    So many expect so much of Obama. No man could live up to all of those expectations even in the best of times.

    I’m afraid his mortality will shine through in short order.

  4. perhaps by “mortality” you mean human frailty. I dread the idea of his mortality being tested if you get my drift.

  5. Very nice post. I’m not sure if I totally agree with your central thesis, in that it’s not like the bar hasn’t been raised before – though as Leland pointed out above, it’s been a long while since we’ve had someone in a prominent leadership position who had true command of the english language.

    So why, if there have been great orators in the past, has the trend not caught on, so to speak?

    I think the larger element at play is one of honesty. We’ve operated as a culture on the language of capitalism: what you say matters less than if it sways potential customers into becoming actual customers and part with their cash. The political right has been masterful at migrating this commercial rhetoric into the political realm; we literally have candidates running for public office who deride government and public service and still manage to get elected (though in some cases it’s the vote of the courts rather than the vote of the people… but that’s another post).

    Obama’s speech (nay, his whole campaign really) is refreshing not just because of his lack of PowerPoint, his command of english and ability to turn a phrase, but because the discourse is once again shifted toward the concept that governments are instituted to provide for the public common good (and not just to pave the way for corporations to protect their profits).

    In this regard, PowerPoint became so ubiquitous in the business world because it became easy to side-step facts in favor of bullet points (see Ed Tufte’s work regarding NASA’s use of PP in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster for the most extreme consequences of reducing important information to easily digestible slides).

    Of course, Keynote is no better if the mind and ideas driving the software are only interested in hiding behind the slides it projects. A good presentation, as you say, Les, whether at a conference, a small business meeting, or a President-Elect, rests on the bedrock of the honesty and passion for the subject/topic/idea that the speaker him/herself puts forth.

  6. Ah-mm… Obama did not hold a presentation — he gave a speech.

    A presentation is the process of “showing and explaining” the content of a topic or topics to an audience while giving a speech (public speaking) is the process of speaking to a group of people in a structured, deliberate manner intended to inform, influence, or entertain the listeners.

    To be honest, I too think he is a great orator but I am not sure how he will come across while giving a presentation. Based upon his campaign I do believe that his team (future staff) will be savvy enough to use modern tools and ideas for the generation of presentation content.

    Ian

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