Scripted events like the State of the Union are generally so dry and predictable that they’re best remembered when something unusual happens. Right after President Obama’s speech last night, many news analysts suggested that this State of the Union only really stood out for the emotional pull of the “they deserve a vote” refrain at the end.
But today it isn’t Obama’s speech that’s getting the most attention on the morning shows, it’s the Republican response from Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Specifically, the fact that he suddenly lurched out of the television frame to grab a water bottle and take a drink. So far he’s handled the response with such good humor that I really don’t think it’s the “disaster” that some people are making it out to be. But it certainly isn’t the kind of attention that anyone wants. Especially since there was already talk that the opposition response was cursed.
Instead of leaving it up to chance (or accident), it’s always a good idea to plan what you can do to make your presentations memorable. What will stand out in the sea of colorless talks? What will keep your audience’s attention focused on you so they won’t be tempted to sneak their phones out of their pockets? How would you want an audience member to describe your presentation to someone who wasn’t there? Figure out a “hook” for your talk so it isn’t forgotten the moment everyone leaves the room.
I have to admit, I’m still a little resistant to the idea of taking advice from former New York governor Eliot Spitzer. And President Obama obviously didn’t decide to throw out the speech he’d written in favor of the ten minute version Spitzer created for Slate. The State of the Union is a particularly difficult speech to reform because people have very specific expectations for it; it’s going to be a long list of policy proposals that will never happen (missions to Mars, hydrogen fuel stations on every corner) and it’s going to be upbeat, no matter how grim the real state of the Union.
But Spitzer’s article for Slate contains some great ideas for simplifying and clarifying any talk. Cut the length way down. Limit yourself to a few ideas that people can easily remember. Back up what you have to say with clear visuals like the sample slides he provides (and I’ve attached at the top of this post).
Try these strategies with your next talk and I’ll bet you’ll be pleased with the results. There’s no reason that presentations have to be the length of TV shows or movies. Unless they’re paying to see you, people are almost always happy when you manage to get to the point and cut your meetings short.