What I learned from Dana Perino about public speaking.


DanaParinoOn Saturday, September 6, I was attending a meeting in Chicago for a group of pathologists.  Overall there was approximately 400-500 in attendance.  During the luncheon, we were provided with a lunchtime address by former White House Press Secretary, Dana Perino.

With the extensive experience and variety of positions that Ms. Perino had, she provided a wonderful, entertaining presentation which was very well received by the audience.  After it was over, I realized that I had just witnessed a true “pro” in her handling the crowd.  With that, I took some notes on what I thought were the factors that made her performance / appearance stand out.

I hope you enjoy them.

  • Arrive early and mingle with the crowd.  Don’t rush in, don’t rush out.  I arrived at her presentation about 15-20 minutes early.  Ms. Perino was already there, greeting an talking with people.  She was genuine, yet setting the stage for her presentation.  I had an opportunity to briefly talk with her, and even though it was very brief, it was genuine, friendly and engaging.  Quite a talent.
  • Be pleasant and smile. She certainly knows how to present a positive and engaging presence.  I am not sure I have ever seen her NOT smiling…even when challenging someone on “The Five” or being attacked by the White House press corp.
  • Take photos with the audience.  Many people appreciate the opportunity to take a photo with a celebrity.  She was certainly accommodating.  I have been at presentations where the guest of honor either doesn’t allow photos, or only provides them to a small group.  That practice sets a bad tone with a portion of the audience that feels snubbed.
  • Provide stories, then include special “insider” information. As a “personal appearance” type of presentation, it was interesting to analyze Ms. Perino’s presentation.  There was a brief description of her back ground and then she provided some interesting stories.  Each contained a person of prominence, George Bush (#41 and #43) and Barack Obama.  The story was short and had a point.  But the interesting part was when she provided some background information for the story, which you wouldn’t hear from anyone else. It demonstrated her place in the history that was being made while she was White House press secretary.
  • Don’t degrade others in your talk, even if you disagree with themI would guess that Ms. Perino’s politics are more toward the right than the left. (Just a guess on my part).  However, you would never know it from her presentation.  When the topic of Barack Obama came up in a story, it was a positive, personal and as interesting as her reminiscences of being in the Bush White House. All positive!
  • Have a small amount of humor. There was a story that Ms. Perino relayed about the difficulties of standing in for Tony Snow during his illness.  Mr. Snow is well over 6 feet tall, and Ms. Perino is quite petite and she provided an entertaining story about the podium height that had a “punch line” with just a touch of self deprecation.  That presented another side of her and there was a good chuckle in the audience.  I won’t ruin the story for others with the ending.  Remember…laughing makes people feel good.  And a good presenter makes people feel good.
  • Dress to match the audience. I think that there is a balance here.  You have to dress in a manner that is not “above” or “below” the audience.  In this case, the audience was a large group of physicians of all ages.  When you address and audience, dress to be “one of them”.
  • Recognize the audiences interests and background…and include it into your talk. Prepare your presentation to include some information about the audience.  Nothing worse that giving the same canned presentation to a group of boy scouts, then investment advisers and then last a group of postal retirees without at least making little changes that personalize the presentation for that audience.  Ms. Perino included some specific information about the practice of pathology in her presentation.  Enough to have people in the audience “relate” to her. 
  • Mention from the podium some people you have met ahead of the lecture…by nameThis is perhaps the top item that I learned from Ms. Perino’s presentation.  During the time that she met with some of the audience prior to her presentation, she actually had a conversation with them, and learned their name and a little about them.  That was woven into the presentation, where she mentioned those audience members, by name, truly creating a personal connection with the audience through that action.  Brilliant!
  • Depending on what you are presenting, match to the topic and your presentation energy to the audience….Reserved.  Engaged.  Outgoing. A little outrageous.  Very outrageous. You might consider this as speaking 101.  But it never hurts to say it again just to remind you. Ms. Perino nailed it at her presentation and matched her presentation tone and content to the audience perfectly.
  • Thank the audience for their attention.  All too often, speakers just end their presentation without ever thanking the audience for their time.  Remember, they are there to hear you, and they have give you, the speaker, a small slice of their life.  Time is not a renewable resource, so thank them for that precious gift.
  • Thank the sponsor for their invitation.  Sponsors have an enormous choice in speakers.  You want to leave them with a very positive feeling.  Thanking them and providing some form of sincere compliment can help you book that next presentation.  Not doing it just might cause you to lose future engagements, or at the least, you will have lost the opportunity to stand out in the eyes of that sponsor.

With each presentation that I now attend, I look at the presenter in a slightly different manner that I had previously, looking to learn from them, to help me with my future presentations.  It’s a continuous learning process.  The following day, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Michio Kaku, a world renown physicist.  Different topic, different approach, different lessons.  Equally entertaining.  That, perhaps is for a future post.

What lessons have YOU learned from various speakers?  Share them below!

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photo credits: www.DanaParino.com

BTW…Watch for Ms. Parino’s book which is coming out next year.  When I spoke with her about her witnessing history being made during her tenure at the White House, she assured me that it will be well covered from her perspective.  It should be interesting.

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9 thoughts on “What I learned from Dana Perino about public speaking.”

  1. Nicely summarized, Steve. Your organized approach adds another layer onto whatever Dana had to say.
    And your brief comments about Dr. Kaku highlights why having a good, live speaker at events – one people can touch, not just see on a screen – isn’t likely to go out of style. There is something extra about being in the room with “that guy/gal Right There.” It’s the main reason when I’m speaking at a conference, I fill my open time with sitting in on whoever else’s presentation is going on. The bigger the conference, the bigger the opportunities.

    1. Thanks for the comment Steve. It’s great to watch pro’s…especially when you are looking to see what they do to make their presentation stand out.

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