What makes a good speech? (part 3)

It’s easy to be ambivalent about presentation training because of its tendency to homogenise outputs.  At its best it helps people package their thoughts in effective ways and make speeches more comprehensible and enjoyable for audiences. At its worst it makes speakers sound like rejects from some Dale Carnegie school.

Roger Fry, who ran a media and presentation training program for many years, came up with one of the best formulas for effective presentations with his MBE structure. MBE stood for main point, because, example and, in simple terms referred to the need to make a main point, give a reason why it was important and then give an example of how. If you think about it for a minute you can see how it easily translates into a logical and succinct structure for a just about any subject you want to address. The because and the example are probably a bit of a handicap for modern day politicians, as their sound grabs are generally more about flat assertions, but for the rest of us it provides some intellectual rigour to even the simplest and shortest statement.

Roger developed the system when sound grabs on TV and radio were much longer than now. In many cases the best grab now is like a really brief effective epigram crafted by someone like Oscar Wilde or an ancient Roman. The Wildean epigram style is very easy to copy – like a Ted Sorensen speech for JFK – ensuring its ongoing popularity with stand-up comics and speechwriters working on roasts. The Latin is a bit harder in a largely monolingual country like Australia.

Dr Tony Jaques, academic and publisher of the Issue Outcomes website and newsletter to which the blog often refers, has circulated to the Asia-Pacific media and communications academic community details of an excellent guide to presentations which owes much to the TED network and its presentations. The guide was published in the Harvard Business Review and can be found at http://hbr.org/2013/06/how-to-give-a-killer-presentation/ar/pr.

The author, Chris Anderson, coordinates TED talks and recounts how they help presenters put together the things you see on TED. There is a lesson in that itself – even the most powerful and brightest are prepared to take advice from experts in a specific format. But the advice goes beyond TED to the significance of narrative and some really excellent points about how to get the best results from any presentation to any audience. And, it’s all illustrated by some excellent audio visual material.