Three Ways to Present Like a Star Reporter

28 Oct

Every day, I have a morning routine: I grab a coffee in my favorite mug, a cozy chair, and I read news sites: Politico, Huffington Post, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. For me, reading the news is like digging through a box of mysteries: the more I know, the more my interest is piqued. Take, for instance, a current headline on the Huffington Post that reads, “Surprising Twist in Elizabeth Warren’s Past Revealed.” A successful headline like this one prompts a flood of internal questions, such as, “What is the ‘surprising twist’? How did someone find out about it? Will it impact Warren’s senatorial run against Scott Brown?”

Business communication, especially presentations, can benefit from looking toward reporters for important lessons about enhancing messages through simplicity. Here are three key take-away lessons that can make your next presentation more ‘newsworthy’:

1) Build a Mystery

A polished presenter, like a great reporter, knows how to attract interest through mysteries. The authors of Made to Stick know tell us that good stories start by telling the reader that you possess certain information they want to know and then by slowly revealing that information. Mysteries play on our desire to figure out solutions and fill in gaps in our knowledge. The same needs and emotions that drive our actions determine what we find interesting, such as love, fear, hatred, betrayal and deception, hopes and aspirations. Therefore, use stories and anecdotes that appeal to universal human themes. Start by, for instance, by posing a question that has no clear answer. Then, over time, reveal what that answer is or why that problem has no solution. Be sure never to let a mystery completely resolve itself, but instead, continue to build on its major themes throughout your presentation.

2) Be Straightforward and Logical

Once you’ve outlined what information you’re going to say, say it in the most precise way possible. Journalistic writing is known for how succinct it is. With newspaper columns measured by the inch, words are viewed as precious commodities. The lesson here is that any word that isn’t strengthening an argument or which feels unnecessary should be left out (see Hemingway). Thoroughness has a place, but it must be balanced by certain restrictions, such as time. Weigh what information is most important. More words rarely equal stronger impact.

Also, be sure to have a clear structure in your presentation. Journalists follow a strict, upside-down pyramid structure, with the most important points at the top of a story, and the lesser important details following in subsequent paragraphs. Your audience should not be left in suspense too long about what you’re saying. Sometimes a simple sentence is the best way to express an idea. Don’t be afraid to chop up a complex idea into a sequence or series of steps. Finally, avoid being “purple,” by choosing words for their precision.

3) Correctly Cite your Sources

Fumbling quotes and misstating facts are some of the worst mistakes a journalist can make; the same can be said about a business presenter. This type of error shows a lack of attention to detail and devalues the speaker’s credibility. After all, what a person says has little value if that person isn’t perceived to be credible. The same standard should exist for presenters in business. Statistics and quotes should always be explained within the context they were intended and never misconstrued or misappropriated for the presenter’s purpose. For example, President Obama recently said, “After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.” Drawing the conclusion that the US is also leaving Afghanistan would be a false assumption on my part. Presenting “misinformation” as truth suggests the speaker doesn’t understand what he is saying or is being knowingly deceptive. Both situations are bad for a presenter, whose goals are simply to convey information and to persuade.

If you follow these three points, should be well on your way to developing bolder, better structured, and more engaging presentations.

by Jonathan Emden

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