21 Secrets to Powerful Presentations

It’s often said that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Well, it turns out you can’t always judge a book by its title, either.

At first, I dismissed James Humes’ Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln, assuming it would be full of historical platitudes and anecdotal stories rather than actionable advice. Instead, I discovered a terrific reference tool for novice and seasoned presenters alike – including me.

Each of the 21 chapters in this surprisingly quick read offers solid advice for enhancing your presentation skills, using examples from some of history’s most powerfully memorable speakers. Author Humes knows his stuff – this author, professor and speechwriter for five American presidents is a noted authority on the speaking habits of Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Ronald Reagan, and others.

Focusing on what the author calls “21 Power Secrets”, Humes provides the tools to electrify discussions and persuade and capture any audience’s attention. Three of his secrets – Power Pause, Power Point, and Power Reading – are techniques that I’ve found over the course of my 25-year coaching career to be consistently challenging for even the most experienced presenter, yet critical to every high-stakes presentation.

Here are some of the author’s tips to integrate into your own preparation:

Power Pause
Most speakers begin by offering thanks and appreciation for the opportunity to speak. Don’t! Before saying a word, take the time to look directly into the eyes of your listeners. Greet them with a warm smile, then slowly deliver your opening sentence – knowing that every moment you wait strengthens the impact of your opening words. This power pause draws the undivided attention of your audience and leaves them better prepared to listen to your message.

Power Point
No, we’re not talking about slides! Hume’s power point is the bottom line key message you want to leave with your audience. If you want to be heard, understood and achieve results, you must first “stop, think and plan” your power point. As Humes suggests, determine what you want your audience to do and craft your presentation accordingly.

Power Reading
It’s one of the cardinal rules of effective speaking…never let words come out of your mouth while your eyes are looking down. Looking down disconnects you from the audience and means you are speaking at them, not to them. Mastering the skill of power reading means looking down to see the text, looking up – all the way up – and pausing, then conversationalizing the phrase you’ve just recorded in your mind. Although this technique may feel awkward at first, with practice it will become second nature.

Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln supported many of the proven tools in my coaching arsenal, and gave me some new tips for reinforcing them in the minds of my clients. Try some of James Humes’ 21 secrets and forge more powerful connections with your next audience!