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What John F Kennedy’s Moon Speech Can Teach PMO Professionals?

What can JFK's Speech Teach PMO Professionals - FuturePMO

In preparation for Florian’s session at FuturePMO, we have asked him to work with us in a series of helpful hints and tips to help you on your PMO presentation skills. In this first instalment he encourages us to think about President John F Kennedy’s Moon speech.

Florian Bay – District Director – Toastmasters International UK South – Company Director – Speak to Lead!

The recent 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landings was an opportunity to look back at the many aspects of this fantastic achievement. From the technological challenges involved to the intricate aspects of project managing Apollo programme itself.

Few paid attention to JFK’s speech delivered in 1962 to persuade the American public to support the programme. This speech is a quintessential example of a persuasive speech and rich in lessons for current and aspiring PMO professionals looking to make a case.

Scene setting via storytelling

The speech begins with a short story about the pace of human progress to set the scene for listeners.

“Condense, if you will, the 50,000 years of man’s recorded history in a time span of but a half-century. Stated in these terms, we know very little about the first 40 years […] Only last week did we develop penicillin and television and nuclear power, and now if America’s new spacecraft succeeds in reaching Venus, we will have literally reached the stars before midnight tonight.”

Storytelling can be a very effective method to catch the attention of your audience. It also helps in communicating complex messages and ideas in human terms.

Storytelling also offers an opportunity to be inclusive. It can, for example, turn obstacles in a project as villains and portray the teams and people looking to resolve them in heroic terms.

Most importantly, storytelling and using characters or personifications can build a powerful emotional connection with your audience.

This is crucial if you are looking to pitch an idea or sell a product. If you have to explain what went wrong with a project, storytelling can help there too.

Any topic can be turned into a story if you set your mind to it. I recently delivered a well-acclaimed speech on the risks and promises nuclear power using storytelling techniques. The process of manufacturing a pencil was once turned into a 20 pages short story in the 1950s. Your project is a story waiting to be told!

Keep it simple

JFK’s speech does cover the technological challenges of going to the Moon. Especially those related to building the massive Saturn V rocket.  This sentence is especially candid about the difficulties lying ahead.

“A giant rocket made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced.”

The challenges are explained simply without any kind of visual aids, graphs, tables or numbers.

Everybody can understand the words used and this is what is so good about this. We very often work in multidisciplinary teams where specialist knowledge may not be universal.

Simplifying your message will make it stronger as more people will be able to understand it. If something is too complicated, you can always rely on analogies to simplify it further.

JFK’s speech used one of these very well “fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch.” Everybody knows what a watch is and that it is complicated. It also triggers images in our head of clock mechanisms etc.

Never hesitate to use analogies to simplify a complex message.

If you are faced with a challenging situation and have to explain yourself. Using simple language will enhance your credibility and portray honesty far more than if you were using technical language.

Keep it short

The speech was delivered in less than 20 minutes and only has about 2,000 words in total. Yet the message of the speech is both memorable and powerful.

It is a myth to imagine that the longer you speak, the better you are. Time is the only commodity that can’t be replenished.

Packing a powerful message in a short space of time is essential in today’s professional world.

One way to keep your speeches and presentations short is to focus on having only three core points supporting your message. More points and you risk drowning your audience in facts that will fly over their heads.

Instead, flesh out each point in-depth and provide different perspectives that your audience can latch onto.

If you need to provide more information, you can always create and distribute handouts for your audience.

Also always remember to be clear on what the objective of your speech/presentation is. Anything that doesn’t add to your objective is a distraction and can be cut out.

This is a simple thing that can make you stand out as a memorable presenter and a thought leader.

Purpose is power after all!

Hear more about public speaking from Florian Bay at FuturePMO 2019 – Book tickets now

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