If you think you've survived your share of high-pressure presentations, you can imagine what the five Boston 2024 Olympic bid presenters must have felt on December 16, when they made their case to the United States Olympic Committee board. 

By now, you know the outcome. On Friday, January 9, the USOC announced its choice of Boston as the lone U.S. city that could bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. Thanks to some fantastic reporting by Shira Springer in The Boston Globe, there's now a record of how the five Boston presenters aced their USOC presentation. 

Here's a summary of what they did right, supplemented by tips from other presentation experts:

1. They practiced relentlessly, including the morning of the big presentation. The Globe reports that there were 31 practice sessions in all. Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, one of the five presenters, compared the practices to "debate prep in high school." 

The key is to practice frequently and deliberately, simulating the setting and the choreographed conditions of the actual presentation. "If you really want to sound great, write out your speech rather than taking chances winging it," suggests WordStream founder Larry Kim, whose Boston-based company has raised $28 million in venture capital. "Try to practice where you'll be delivering your talk."

Kim is also a believer in recording your presentation and playing it back to yourself. "Listening to recordings of your past talks can clue you in to bad habits you may be unaware of, as well as inspiring the age-old question: 'Is that what I really sound like?'"

2. They addressed all of the USOC's concerns. USOC board member Angela Ruggiero told the Globe that the Boston presenters "delivered on all of the asks from the USOC." Those asks included: 

  • Integrating local universities
  • Focusing on the needs of the athletes
  • Providing an intimate feeling to the Olympics
  • Demonstrating alignment with the International Olympic Committee's sustainability initiatives
  • Showing leadership, unity, and stability 

Put another way, the Boston quintet knew the pain points--and they made sure their presentation checked all the boxes. 

As Barbara Seymour Giordano, a communication strategist for StoryWorksLA.com, points out, any presentation will become much more engaging to the audience if you put yourself in the audience members' shoes and identify the pain points--from their perspective. As an example, Giordano talks about the type of presentation that the producer of a new pacemaker device might give. 

"Step into the audience's shoes, and you'll most likely find that the three things they care about most (in the example of the pacemaker) are ease of use, patient satisfaction, and affordability," she says. In other words: Resist the temptation to brag about high-tech specs, or the product's bells and whistles.

"Identify what's most important to your audience, and you'll give a presentation that they'll be sure to want to learn more about," she added. 

Even when challenged on some important points, the Boston presenters were ready with answers. For instance, at one point the USOC board asked Walsh if he thought Bostonians actually wanted the Olympics.

Now, the answer to this question--if you stick your finger in the Boston air--happens to be, "not really." You can find plenty of articles in which Bostonians hardly seem enthusiastic about the prospect of hosting the 2024 Games, for reasons relating to cost or specious beliefs about the Games' economic benefits for the host city. 

But Walsh's answer was canny. He told the USOC board that he thought "the more people learned about the bid, the more they would support it." He might be right. 

3. They spoke passionately. According to the Globe, the passion of Walsh and Boston 2024 chairman John Fish "left a favorable impression" on the USOC board. 

Of course, making sure your presentation contains passion is easier said than done, especially when the requisite repeated rehearsals run the risk of making your speeches seem scripted or formulaic.

Author and presentation expert Nancy Duarte, CEO of Duarte Design, the presentations company behind Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, says that passionate, heartfelt speaking is so powerful, it can obviate the need for visual slides accompanying the presentation. 

As an example, she cites Sheryl Sandberg's slideless talk at TED Women. "The subject matter was very personal to her," Duarte told Inc. "She had plenty of stories. The words that came out of her mouth were visual. She's beautiful, and that helps. She's articulate. She's riveting. It's not like she had to display a piece of data. It made it feel like you were sitting in her living room having a conversation with her."

Whether Boston will actually wind up with the 2024 Olympics remains an open question. The IOC won't announce a decision until September 2017. Paris, Berlin, and Rome all have strong cases to make. But given its presenters' success with the USOC, Boston's case certainly seems to be in capable hands.

Published on: Jan 13, 2015