Giving great speeches is all about combining form and content. All content and no form is boring. All form and no content is fluff.
Those who focus on form—the really good ones—respect this balance, and have created their own content around form. I’ve had the pleasure to know two: Sims Wyeth and Patricia Fripp. Let me introduce them to you.
Sims coaches presenters. He also sends out newsletters and articles about the craft of speaking–communiqués that are themselves little gems. They are short and to the point. But they are provocative. And they are elegant. The messages themselves represent the marriage of form and content. If you’re going to tell people how to communicate—then communicate that message well.
Here are two examples from Sims:
The DNA of all reasoning is the syllogism. Given A, and since B, therefore C. For instance, given "All men are mortal," and since "Socrates is a man," therefore "Socrates is mortal."
Can you use this as the structure for a presentation? I think so. You could say: Given the situation we find ourselves in (and here you describe it in detail), and since we agree that our goals are XYZ (and here you describe your goals), therefore, this is what we should do (and here you elaborate on your solution.)
See? Logic is the language of presenting.
Variety is the difference between a river and a canal. The river offers a surprise around every bend–calm pools, sounding cataracts, deep gorges, spreading fields. A canal is straight, plodding, dull.
Good presentations are like rivers; bad ones like canals. Your listeners want variety–broad truths buttressed by homely examples. Solemn purpose marbled with wit.
Variety perks things up!
Years ago, Patricia Fripp gave me a speaking structure in two days that I’ve used ever since. We should all aspire to a page of testimonials like this one of hers.
She also respected my content. She was fully capable of grasping my content; she offered her content expertise, in service to me, as a means to support my content.
She had her own content too. Like Sims, the subject of her content is form. How many of the “8 Mistakes Made Using Powerpoint” do you commit? I reviewed them tonight and found three—and I’m pretty good at this stuff!
Fripp’s business is speaking, and training others to speak. Zero content stuff? No way! Her website is loaded with topical programs, discussions, articles, videos, insights.
One tiny example: if you were interested in booking Fripp herself as a speaker, eventually it would dawn on you that you’d want to promote the event. You’d want her bio. You’d want a suggested introduction. You’d want pithy quotes; a set of sample speech topics; a sample brochure for advance promotion. And of course—it’s all there, right on her website. Because Fripp is a content pro—about the content of form.
The people I’ve met who are worldclass in what they do–Sims and Patricia in speaking, for example–do not see a “form vs. content” issue. They find the two mutually reinforcing.