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Lessons Learned from the Gettysburg Address: Presentation Skills, Anyone?

The Battle of Gettysburg occurred 150 years ago this week!

Signifying a turning point in the Civil War, we can’t overlook Abraham Lincoln’s succinct speech.  As pointed out on a LinkedIn post by Nancy Duarte, CEO of Duarte, Inc. and author of The HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations, there are several lessons we can learn from the Gettysburg Address (yes, that’s the famous speech: “Four score and seven years ago…).

1. Brevity. For starters, she asks, “Do you remember any long speeches from 150 years ago?”

Maybe Lincoln was onto something. After all, his 270-word speech was succinct and inspirational. Duarte writes:

“When you strip away the fluff from your talk, you make it easier for your audience to absorb your ideas and share them. People can only remember so much, so say things in as few words as possible. Give yourself a strict time limit and force a filtering-down process until only the imperative messages remain.”

2. Contrast. Lincoln mourned the loss his fellow Americans felt but made the contrast to the potential of what could be. Simply stated, he asked them to continue “unfinished work” of freedom.

“Constrast creates interest and dramatic tension,” she writes. “Find ways to take the status quo and contrast it with the future potential.”

3. Call to action. It’s that simple for speakers to tell audiences what you want them to do. In his speech, Lincoln asked citizens to “resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” Considering the purpose of a presentation is typically to share information and ignite a fire to change a thought or process, Duarte mentions a “willing audience will often cooperate with a compelling call to action.”

Her advice? “Don’t beat around the bush (remember brevity); just give specifics and be as clear as possible.”

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