Like snapping a towel to skin, you want to sting your audience in a good way, and no better way to do it than a Malcolm X presentation.
Make it sit up straight, snap their heads in your direction.
You can do this several ways, and it’s up to you what you choose, but it should fit your audience and the topic of your presentation.
One effective method is the use of a “grabber” line.
This is a surprising and unconventional sentence or an unusual fact that immediately alerts the audience that its about to hear something special.
Not just another canned talk.
One of the greatest public speakers of modern times was the late Malcolm X. His speeches are textbook examples of how to grab an audience, mesmerize it throughout his presentation. He then mobilized his audience with an especially powerful call to action.
His techniques are so powerful that he deserves a category all his own.
And so I coin what I call the Malcolm X Presentation.
The Malcolm X Presentation
Whether you agree or disagree with him is irrelevant to the point that he was a captivating communicator who drew from a deep well of powerful presentation techniques. His charisma was unquestioned and it grew organically from the wellspring of passion that he invested in his cause and in every speech.
Malcolm’s speeches are just that – speeches – and they are written for the ear and not the eye. They are best read aloud so as to absorb the measured beats, to feel the repetition of key phrases, and to learn the effects of certain rhetorical flourishes.
When you read sentence after sentence, you sense the power and the deep moral outrage coming through, sometimes explicit but most often through a steady recapitulation of ideas using different phrases, but key words.
You gain a sense of the gathering storm, you almost hear rolling thunder in the distance.
Today, I mine his speeches for their cadences, their imagery, their use of allegory, anaphora, and turns of phrase. With respect to grabbing an audience’s attention, too many presentations and speeches begin with routine thank-yous and ingratiation of the audience.
They sputter with stale phrases, a gripping of the podium and a squinting at notes or giving jerky backward glances at an unreadable projection screen.
Remember that a speech is tremendously different from a written document.
Pauses and repetition, tone and inflection are essential with the spoken word. Let’s look at the beginning of a typical Malcolm X speech and see how he grabs his audience.
Read it with his spoken delivery in mind.
This speech – Message to the Grass Roots – was delivered in Detroit on November 10, 1963. Irrespective of the time and place and circumstance, which of course will leaven our approach, note that Malcolm begins his talk by immediately establishing intimacy with the audience.
We want to have just an off-the-cuff chat between you and me . . . us. We want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand.
We all agree tonight, all of the speakers have agreed, that America has a very serious problem. Not only does America have a very serious problem, but our people have a very serious problem.
In the space of four sentences, Malcolm has drawn in his listeners and layed out a situation statement that, at that moment, captivated his audience.
He establishes a mood of confidentiality and rapport. He then states boldly – “America has a very serious problem . . . We have a very serious problem.”
Who wouldn’t want to hear what comes next?
No Chit-Chat in a Malcolm X Presentation
Notice that he did not engage in throat-clearing and chit-chat. No “Thank you Mr. Chairman” . . . no “So good to see so many committed activists tonight and familiar faces in the crowd.” Notice also the use of repetition of key phrases: “Very serious problem.”
Straight to the point, and a bold point it is. See what comes next . . .
America’s problem is us. We’re her problem. The only reason she has a problem is she doesn’t want us here.
And every time you look at yourself, be you black, brown, red or yellow, a so-called Negro, you represent a person who poses such a serious problem for America because you’re not wanted. Once you fact this as a fact, then you can start plotting a course that will make you appear intelligent, instead of unintelligent.
Has Malcolm studied his audience? Is he reaching out with a message that is directly relevant to his listeners?
Most important of all, has he grabbed your attention?
He surely has.
Malcolm was expert at executing Presentation Snap, grabbing his listeners in a way that zeroed in on them. He focused on their needs, concerns, desires, hopes.
He framed the issue in colorful language, and created listener expectations that he would offer bold and radical solutions to real problems.
For now, focus on the grabber to seize the attention of your audience. Mull this excellent example from the Malcolm X presentation and ask yourself how he contrived it . . . and how it works.
In subsequent posts, we’ll look at more examples from Malcolm X as he moves through delivery of his presentation, building to his call for action at the end.
If you want to learn more about the techniques that energize a Malcolm X presentation, as well as the secrets that other powerful speakers use in their presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.