Regardless of whose side you take, there is no denying that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton can teach us a thing or two – good and bad – about speaking under pressure. Here are key takeaways from their recent debate performance to guide you through your next big business presentation.
As this reaches your screen, the first US presidential debate of 2016 will have finished. No doubt that media outlets across the world have already spent hours writing post-event analyses of each point or perceived gaffe, sigh and one-liner.
By all accounts, it will have been the most watched political event in modern American history, as more than 100 million people are expected to tune in. It’s easy to understand why: there haven’t been two candidates more opposed in style and policy since the 1960s.
Although you likely will never have that many eyes on you at once, the debate styles of Trump and Clinton provide some insight into how you can ace your next business presentation. It’s not so easy to wing it when you have to win your audience over and clearly communicate your point of view in a way that convinces them to take action.
Here are some of key takeaways you can apply to your next business presentation prep session:
DO have a clear strategy of exactly what you want to achieve.
Clinton has a tendency to let her speeches get bogged down in minute policy details that, while important, often leave audiences unengaged. According to Democratic consultant Bob Shrum, Clinton’s main agenda for this debate has been communicating her policy agenda in a way that’s clear, concise and resonates with voters.
“She can’t just be a collection of wonky substance. She has to convey a sense of vision and a sense of where she wants to take the country,” he says.
For your own business presentation, isolate the main objectives you wish to achieve, and check that every part of your presentation is working towards them.
DON’T just talk at your audience. Speak to them.
It’s not just what you say that matters, it’s how you say it that has an impact.
Trump’s success has come in part because he is adept at connecting to large crowds, using skills honed by years of reality television. “You’re going to see a very natural and normal guy – someone who is comfortable with who he is, not someone who’s highly scripted or nervous,” Rudy Giuliani told the Washington Post before yesterday’s debate.
Trump spent little time studying policy briefings or holding mock debates, betting that his signature ‘speak first, think second’ approach will keep on working for him. However, experts pretty much agree that getting some ‘real-world’ practice in is good for you.
“It’s much better to rehearse the presentation the way you’ll deliver it – standing, aloud, and with the passion, pacing and movement you’ll actually use,” advises Bill Rosenthal at Forbes. Rather than making you seem rehearsed, it actually gives you a level of comfort with your material that means you’ll be even more convincing if you decide to speak off-the-cuff.
DO keep your methods simple.
Clinton spent the three nights preceding the debate in peak-prep mode, hunkered down in a hotel room with a tight-knit group of trusted aides. In the final lead-up, she made a point to steer clear of her wider circle of advisors, colleagues and consultants.
According to veteran political consultant Stuart Stevens, this is the way to go. “Nothing destroys a prep faster than too many opinions,” he tells the Washington Post.
If you need someone to give you pointers, pick a trusted colleague or mentor rather than delivering your speech to your entire team or family.
DON’T be fluffy.
To be a convincing authority on your subject, you need to have an in-depth understanding of the topic and the ability to think on your feet when asked questions. Not only does your presentation need to be backed by convincing arguments, you also need to be ready to defend those arguments.
“The biggest challenge for Trump will be showing he has a command of issues beyond the sound bites he delivers,” explains Brett O’Donnell, a political debate coach. He would have been referring to the Republican candidates preference for buzzwords or quippy one-liners that aren’t supported by facts, figures and solid evidence – a must to convince your audience to not only appreciate your argument, but get behind it too.
When considering the objections of those who might disagree with you, don’t forget that as well as countering other points of view you’re also working to make your own arguments stronger.