Three takeaways for presenters behind Sheryl Sandberg’s Commencement Speech

Sheryl Sandberg speaks

COO of Facebook, activist, author of Lean In and all-around power woman, Sheryl Sandberg gave a commencement speech last weekend for University of California, Berkley. She spoke about resilience and overcoming adversities, something she is very familiar with, after her husband and CEO of SurveyMonkey, David Goldberg, tragically died last year while on vacation. The students in the crowd can relate to her message, but they can also learn a few tips from her presentation skills. Sandberg had one of the best speeches we’ve seen all year, and we found a few takeaways that everyone can use next time they are presenting a very personal story but want to leave an audience with takeaways.

Takeaway 1: Show raw emotion through stories:

Sandberg’s speech showed emotion. She showed her feelings and was not sugarcoating the pain. It is hard for presenters not to get in a different mindset when speaking to large crowds, but Sandberg’s speech made us feel like she was in our office hanging out. She was truthful and raw, and these qualities are what make the presentation so impressive. In addition, she told stories. There is no better way to captivate a crowd than to tell them real and relevant stories about the topic. Sandberg found many ways to incorporate stories, and pushed her speech from interesting to entertaining.

You can take heed in Sandberg’s mannerisms and openness next time you have that big pitch for work or speech for school, and find ways to channel yourself while in front of large groups. This can be from remembering all of the times you practiced informally before the big game, or picturing everyone in the audience in their underwear (we heard that works but not really sure). Once you get a routine, you can master the art of being personable to your crowd, and stay relaxed instead of anxious. If you need more examples of how to make an interesting story, check out our Ebook on stories.

Takeaway 2: Use the Rule of Three for easy retention and structure:

Sandberg broke the commencement speech’s central message into three separate parts: Personalization, Persuasiveness, and Permanence. These topics were announced at the beginning of the speech and repeated throughout, giving the audience context and making it easier to follow. This comes from the rule of three, which is a writing principle that it is easier to remember things that come in threes than any other number.

Sandberg’s utilization of this and her acknowledgment of her topics are something that you can work on in your own work life. Make your meetings in three parts, or give your client three tasks at a time. Hell, even this blog post has three takeaways! Once you are aware of it, the rule of threes will pop up everywhere.

Takeaway 3: Pausing can make your speech go from good to great.

Sandberg knows how to pause and speed up her words to make the audience engaged. At compelling moments, she slows down and lets everyone hear the intensity of her words. This is a tricky skill to master, especially since most people are unaware of how they sound in the moment. So often, commencement speakers, TED talkers, and podcast interviews have unaware speakers not being able to control the pitch and speed of their voice.

The best way to master your speed is to record yourself and just keep practicing. If you are reading from a page, to underline the slower parts and highlight the sped up sections. This will make you more conscious of it and be able to tailor the speech to exactly how you want it to sound.

Overall, Sandberg’s speech was a well-done way to open up about her husband’s death since it has happened, while also sharing a message that resonates with so many. While this would have made a beautiful essay, her speaking skills made it even more influential and newsworthy. She had a clear call to action, for her audience to build resilience and strength, and made her topic well defined and entertaining. Sandberg is helping the fight against bad presentations, one commencement speech at a time.

Want to see the takeaways in action? Watch Sandberg’s speech below:

Keep inspiring Sheryl, we’re all behind you.

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