SOM Students Hone Presentation Skills in Workshops
Kathleen Ellis of the SOM Professional Communications Center cued up the video clip with a straightforward claim: “Everything you need to know about how to do a three-minute presentation is right here.” She hit play, and the half-dozen students assembled for a series of public speaking workshops watched as Indra Nooyi ’80, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, answered the question for this year’s World Economic Forum at Davos: What’s the one thing we must do to make the world a better place in 2008?
Nooyi’s answer focused on the lack of potable water throughout the developing world, which accounts for millions of deaths each year. As Ellis pointed out, the impact of Nooyi’s presentation derived nearly as much from how she explained her answer as the answer itself. Nooyi began her answer by noting how quickly 20 seconds passes by, especially for those of us living in comfort. “But think of this,” she said. “A child dies every 20 seconds from a water-borne illness.” It was at this moment, Ellis explained, that Nooyi had her listeners. “This is a very salient emotional statistic because it’s attached to a child.”
The Professional Communications Center works with students to improve their business writing and speaking skills. The public speaking workshop was the first of four sessions to help students improve their presentation skills. The first session on April 10 served as an introduction to the skills of public speaking, with the following classes focusing on delivery, the art of the PowerPoint, the best ways to organize complicated material for an audience, and how storytelling can turn a passable presentation into something special. “You need to connect on an emotional level in order to make your statistics more meaningful,” Ellis said. “Way too many people rely just on statistics without taking into account the other aspects of a really great presentation.”
Throughout the workshop, students present parts of a PowerPoint they put together before the sessions began. Ellis said her job was to help break down each presentation, to identify their crucial elements, and help create a formula for success. She stressed, though, that even the best presentation can be scuttled by poor execution. “I had a student who was giving a presentation before 400 people,” she said. “He was very nervous about not doing well, so he rehearsed it 20 or 30 times, until he knew the material backwards and forwards. Not surprisingly, it went great.”