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Presenters: Just Have A Conversation

Presentation Tip #5

Think about it. One of the reasons you get nervous about presentations is because you give a presentation. That implies that the responsibility is completely on the presenter to make everything successful.

Yet we all have conversations every day. Long ones, short ones, animated ones, serious ones. Have you ever heard someone say, “Gee, I need to go to conversation training. I don’t know how to talk to people.”

Thank JFK (and Richard Nixon)

I’ve always believed that there was a single defining moment that showed the new direction in how  to approach presentations and “public speaking.”  I believe it was the Kennedy-Nixon debates for U.S. President in 1960. Until then, we were inundated (for the most part) with talking heads behind podiums or desks on film clips. We seldom knew what speakers looked like from the neck down. They talked at us.

As TV grew, so did our expectations. We became used to seeing real people with real personalities talk with us on TV. They even put a hand in a pocket now and then, just like regular people. We probably weren’t conscious of the change taking place—until the Kennedy-Nixon debates. The issue of conversation vs. presentation and casual vs. formal jumped out of the TV screen and into our hearts and minds. To this day, most analysts and observers agree that Nixon brought much more of a specific plan and substance to the exchange. But John Kennedy brought relationship. Viewers and voters decided that conversation and casual was what they preferred–it felt real.


JFK with a casual hand-in-pocket “I’m a real person” moment.


A little “casual” vs. “schoolboy” body language.


The off-camera Nixon looking relaxed and amiable.

Let’s be honest: presentations can drive up our stress level and make us all look more rigid than normal. My suggestion here is the same as my suggestion to clients: Practice having a conversation, not a presentation. 

If you missed them, here are the first four “quick tips” in the series:

#1: Presentation Success: Start With a Call

#2: More Presentation Success: Who Requested It?

#3: Be A Presentation Pro: Do This

#4: Presentation Polish: The Art of the Segue

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