Meeting Thomas Friedman–and How He Surprised Me

From my smile above, can you tell that I’m a Thomas Friedman fan?  I may not always agree with his views, but I do admire his mind and his unwavering commitment to international analysis.

But his speech last week surprised me.

I knew that his comments would be interesting. (After all,  this New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winning author has penned several bestsellers including  The World is Flat and most recently Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How it Can Renew America. ) However, I didn’t know that he would be a really entertaining speaker.  After all, not all accomplished writers are also good–or even decent–speakers.

Why was he so entertaining? His presentation during the Farfel Lecture Series used a number of professional speaking techniques, including:

1. Stories, stories, and more stories: Even dry stats come to life when told through a story. Too many professionals try to show their intelligence with facts and figures. Instead, make statistics memorable with STORIES. Those are what the audience will remember. Friedman told his stories back-to-back, and very casually, without referring to notes.

2. Personalized references: Time and time again, Friedman customized his broader points to the audience. He peppered his speech with references to Rice University, the University of Houston, and Houston’s energy business, and told how they would be impacted by upcoming changes to the world economy and climate.

3. Approachable manner: Friedman seemed approachable. He referred to his Minnesota upbringing and his current family life in Bethesda. Even though he’s a world-renowned journalist, he came across as relaxed, normal and open.  Off stage he acted the same, welcoming students and other fans.

4. Minimal PowerPoint: His slides were clean, sparse and easy to understand. Sadly, he bypassed some slides–leaving audience members wanting more. (Perhaps a ploy to sell more books to an information-hungry audience?)

5. Humor: He didn’t tell “jokes”, but made humorous references–including self-deprecating ones. He used just enough humor to lighten a heavy topic (start a green revolution or face disaster).

Clearly, he had focused on how to enliven his presentation. Next time that you speak in public, use some Friedman focus to bring your dry data to life.

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