Public presentations don’t get much bigger than the keynote stage at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. I’ve personally worked with some executives two to three months ahead of the show, helping them craft and deliver their message. Presentation design experts are hired, products are prepared to be unveiled, and the best speakers rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse for the big day.
Among the 2014 keynote speakers, two stood out as offering valuable lessons for anyone who wants to improve their very next presentation or to become better public speakers: Cisco CEO John Chambers and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer.
Rethink “the stage.” Cisco CEO John Chambers is an astonishing public speaker. I first saw Chambers live in 2003 and he did something I had never seen in a business presentation (a church service, maybe). Chambers jumped off the stage (he didn’t bother to use the steps on the side) and delivered his presentation as he walked among the audience. He does it in nearly every presentation and title="link to keynote">his CES 2014 keynote was no exception. Within two minutes of taking the stage—literally running on stage—he stepped off and walked right up to people as if he were having a conversation one on one, even though he was speaking to thousands.
Very few business leaders have the confidence to do this. It requires a boatload of confidence and a tremendous amount of practice. Chambers practices relentlessly. He knows exactly what he’s going to say on every slide. He knows where the lights are in the auditorium. He knows when he’s going to step off the stage and enter the audience’s space. The preparation is well worth it because he leaves an impression as a strong and confident leader. The following photograph captures several lessons. First, it shows Chambers having broken down the wall between him and the audience. Second, it shows his speaker notes (you can, and should, configure ‘presentation view’ in PowerPoint to show speaker notes while your audience sees the actual slide). As you can tell, he has written out bullet points as a prompt. Much of his presentation is committed to memory. Chambers doesn’t read from a prompter word for word which can be a problem as we saw earlier in the conference. Third, he uses strong hand gestures and energetic body language.
- John Chambers at CES
I once saw Chambers answer a question from someone in the back of a large room. He walked across the entire span of the room to within two feet of the person asking the question. “I know how important eye contact is,” he said. Don’t look at the screen. Look at your audience.
Bring products to life. Demonstrations are critical. But just as you rethink the stage, reconsider how you give demos. Cisco’s chief demonstration officer, Jim Grubb, is Chamber’s ‘sidekick’ in presentations. Grubb and Chambers practice their presentation just as two actors would practice a skit or a routine. At CES, Cisco showed off a new cloud delivery systems for video. The set was created to mimic a living room and Grubb demonstrated the technology as Chambers asked the type of questions a consumer would ask.
Grubb has told me it’s important to humanize technology by putting a face on it. Every demonstration highlights technologies that solve real world problems. Remember, your audience is asking itself, “Why should I care?” Grubb and Chambers make sure the question gets answered and they use banter and humor to keep the demo engaging. “The bottom line is this—you want the audience to get more out of the message,” says Grubb. “They’ll remember more of the presentation if you engage them and entertain them.”
Create ‘wow moments.’ Engaging presentations go beyond the slides. They offer something novel, surprising, and unexpected. For Cisco, it’s the demonstration between Chambers and Grubb that many will remember. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer created a wow moment in her keynote presentation when, while introducing Yahoo as the top digital archive for the best of Saturday Night Live, she brought out two of the show’s cast members who were seated behind a “weekend update” desk.
Share the stage. If you include the two SNL cast members, Mayer shared the stage with eight other people including anchor Katie Couric and former New York Times tech editor, David Pogue, both of whom now work for Yahoo. Chambers, too, introduced several people during his keynote, including a humorous bit from comedian Sarah Silverman. I’m a strong proponent of adding layers of voices to your presentation. Of course most of us will never get celebrities to help tout our products, but sharing the stage with other employees or partners will keep the audience’s attention and create memorable moments.
Keep slides simple and consistent. The trend in slide design is simplicity. Keep your PowerPoint slides visually interesting and reduce text to a minimum. When Mayer announced that Yahoo had reached 400 million monthly mobile users, the number—400 million—was the only text on the screen. Mayer also noted that the slide colors and design were consistent with the design of Yahoo’s mobile app.
Mayer and Chambers are skilled at public speaking and both have put in the time to make their presentations as captivating as possible. Take some lessons from two of the best to make your next presentation a memorable one.
Carmine Gallo is the communication coach for the world’s most admired brands. He is a popular keynote speaker and author of several books including Talk Like TED, which reveals the 9 public-speaking secrets of the world’s top minds. Sign up for Carmine’s newsletter and follow him on Facebook or Twitter.