Lessons on Presenting from the ESPYs

This year’s ESPY awards were full of teachable moments—moments where speakers used techniques that you can incorporate into your own presentations to enhance your message and connect with your audience.  What were some of the best examples?

POW! Statement. Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, speaking on behalf of the sister survivors of sexual abuse, got everyone’s attention from the moment she began speaking: she slowly recited a list of year, beginning with 1998, pausing between each one. Though she went in numerical order, she skipped some years, making us curious. Then she made her point: these were all years that someone had reported Larry Nassar for sexual abuse with no results. It was a great example of a POW! Statement—a strong, attention-getting opening that helps your audience get focused right off the bat. It can be a joke, a story, a sound, an exclamation, or in this case, a statistic. It worked!

Should I tell a joke? ESPY host and retired race car driver Danica Patrick took a big risk in delivering an edgy opening monologue, full of jokes that she didn’t write, some of which missed the mark. Danica tried her best with the material, but she’s not a stand-up comic, and the media who covered the event didn’t respond well to her, calling her performance “painful” and “embarrassing.” We thought she gave the monologue a great effort, and that she hit a home run in a fake movie clip based on the movie “I, Tonya” called “Me, Danica.” But overall, the response she received, both live and after the event, should be considered if you are ever trying to decide whether to use a joke in your speech. If it works, it’s great, but it takes practice to be funny.

Prepare your audience. Danica used a technique at the beginning of her monologue that we sometimes suggest our clients use—calling the audience’s attention to something before it becomes an obvious distraction. Since most of her jokes sharply targeted sports figures who were in attendance, she reminded her audience in advance that being included in the monologue was a sign of respect, even if the joke was harsh (and many of them were). When she made a joke about Astros’ great Jose Altuve’s height, and Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham’s hair, both of which elicited a few groans, she said “remember, sign of respect.”

Acknowledge applause. When Jake Wood, former Wisconsin football player, ex-marine and CEO of Team Rubicon came to the stage to accept the Pat Tillman Award for Service, people responded warmly, and were quick to applaud often as he spoke. He wasn’t always able to predict when the applause would happen, but rather than stumble over it, he said at one point, “All right, you can applaud now.”  It’s a good technique to acknowledge when you and your audience are unsure of how to stay in sync. He also delivered a few great lines, especially this one: “Know your neighbor, love your neighbor, help your neighbor. Doing that is the best tribute we can pay to Pat Tillman.”

Watch clips from the 2018 ESPY Awards show by clicking here

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