Saturday, November 13, 2010

Barack Obama’s Presentation Skills- India Trip, Nov 2010

I am sure there must tons of coverage on what Barack Obama did at India and his Asia tour of 2010- There was considerable coverage in the India media before he arrived and after he departed. Politicians, Corporates, Institutions, Villages et al had an agenda with the Big O and vice-versa. While there is a lot of talk around Obama having an agenda for the US and how he wanted a win-win situation with us- I am not blogging those important details as there are better folks than me who would have documented that. Also there was a section of crowd that said, “now we have got attention” and another section that said, “we better get this attention as we are definitely invincible”, blah, blah- We are not entering that area as well.

Quite interestingly, the premise of this blog is look at one sliver of Big O’s visit which was his town hall session at St.Xavier’s college at Mumbai [tp:// ] where a lot of students were supposed to be grilling him with hard, sensitive questions. I happened to see that session in the TV and I got some valuable insights on presentation skills- I think I will be the millionth fan of Big O’s presentation skills but nevertheless wanted to record that. I know that big title, designated corporate honchos can also learn on the art of presentation through this Q & A session alone.

Here are my observations:

• Non-filler usage- This is an amazing skill especially when you are extempore and faced with sensitive political questions. Typically, folks use “you know”, “I mean” etc some 200 times in a 5 minute conversation- Even senior corporate honchos have this problem. Hint for their HR team: Get a communication coach for your CEO and VP’s. I have already blogged about this earlier!!

• Connection with the audience- Usually communication coaches call this as “eye contact” but Big O has clearly crossed that part. This connection is beyond eye contact- there was an emotional angle associated with the answers of some of the questions. Its again to hard to develop this skill because this requires good amount of empathy and compassion! Both of these are in scarcity today.

• Engaging the audience and local association- There were many times where Obama mentioned about local things at India, Gandhi etc. This brings the relevancy and also engages the audience- There is a huge plus in connecting with the culture even if it is a 30 minute conversation!

• Assertiveness in communication- I think this is an amazing trait of Big O. The tone tells about the assertiveness on some issues!

• Answering the questions specifically- This seems like an OBVIOUS point in a Q & A session but most of the leaders or presenters in this type of sessions don’t answer the question and beat around the bush. I won’t say Obama was perfect in this area but given his constraints he did a great job. There was a question about why Pakistan not being called a terrorist state and Obama’s answer was picture perfect- He said that Pakistan’s stability is good for India and there are extremists in Pakistan as they are in any part of the country in the world. India is on a super growth mode and an unstable Pakistan is not good for India. He also added some masala on how great Pakistan is but the key point is abstracting the question and focusing on stability which is important for India. Fair enough! From purely a ATQ [answer the question] perspective, his answers were great. From a different perspective, US wants Pakistan to be an ally and they need Afghan control in the war and they are ramping down as well. These are some underlying aspects but as I said earlier, there are enough folks who are deep in to this debate that I don’t want to join that gang with my opinion. :-)

You can view the Youtube version here:

All of the above points seem very obvious and easy but I think it’s very difficult to implement on regular basis! More importantly, these are highly significant for any leader today whether s/he in business or politics.

After I blogged this, I was curious to google about “Barack Obama’s presentation skills” and I got a whooping 96,700 results. I was bang on with my assumption of me being a millionth fan or one among the millions who likes his presentation skills.
I wonder how much of home work Obama does for his speeches or is it a innate talent! I would have asked that question in St.Xavier’s, Mumbai if I was present during that day!

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