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10 things Frank Underwood taught me about public speaking (Episode 2)

10 things Frank Underwood taught me about public speaking (Episode 2)

ARTICLE

10 things Frank Underwood taught me about public speaking (Episode 2)

MICHAŁ KASPRZYK

A few days ago you could have read the first five things about public speaking you can learn from Frank Underwood. If you’ve missed the article, you can read it here. And now, without further ado, let’s get back to our list:

6. Use simple comparisons

(the speech about Social Security Act, S03E07).

The Social Security Act is 80 years old. Frank says that it lived longer than many people it was created to serve and that we should feel lucky if we live the same age. He points out how age affects any person – they are weaker, their youth and vigor are gone and their heart doesn’t beat with the same power as before. And it’s high time to replace this Act with a younger and more vigorous one.

This simple comparison clearly shows what the problem is. We see our elders everyday, we see their problems and struggles with reality – technology being at the forefront.

The art of using simple comparisons was one of the superpowers of Steve Jobs. When he presented the first iPod, he could have said that it has 8 GBs of memory and share the exact size in millimetres, but it would be uninspiring. Instead, Jobs said that iPod is a thousand songs in your pocket. Brilliant. I know how much a thousand songs is and I know that if it fits into my pocket, it means that it’s small.

Comparisons help the audience confront presented information with the reality they know. They work a bit like dictionaries or encyclopedias.

7. Use simple visuals

(the speech in front of the team for abolishing Social Security Act, S03E01).

Thirty two thousand seven hundred eighty one. Long, right? Then why the hell do you read it from your slides? Frank didn’t. He left this number on a flipchart, hanging there for every audience member to see and he simply delivered his talk around it. But this would not be possible, if his flipchart was cluttered with content – then his listeners wouldn’t know which information is he referring to. The same goes for slides – one slide = one information. Avoid bullet points. And if you really have to visualize something as a list – do it graphically.

8. Talk about things that are important and relevant to the audience

(eulogy, S01E03; the speech in front of the library S01E08).

Can you imagine a candidate in presidential elections who, during his campaign, talks about what Kim Kardashian wore to a party the previous night? Nope. No, no and nope.

During the eulogy, Frank talks about emotions that affect each and every one of us; in this case – hatred. He then relates it to parents, whose child’s funeral this was. Can you blame people, who has lost a child for a moment of weakness and hatred for God? Every one of Frank’s listeners could probably relate to that.

Positive values, however, are “safer” to use than those negative ones and have as high chance to influence the audience. In front of the library, Frank talked about friendship and he mentioned that he’d spent the previous night with his friends who he hadn’t seen for a long time. He emphasized (metaphorically) that the relationships he’d built back then, were the most important element of that part of his life. He then told the story of how his life looked like when he was the same age as his audience and this had a big influence on them.

Remember that what you are talking about has to be relevant to your audience and has to be important. Aim at changing the lives of your listeners even in the smallest ways.

9. Tell a story

(the speech in Iowa, S03E09; eulogy, S01E03).

The story doesn’t have to be long and yet again – it’s best if the audience can relate to it (see point no. 8). Frank tells a story of how he held a conversation with a young lady named Gloria who, even though had finished Iowa State University, couldn’t find a job. Unfortunately he doesn’t finish this story (no spoilers!), but we can imagine how he lists reasons for Gloria being unemployed and what he plans to do to help people like her.

In the eulogy Frank mentions that his father died at the age of 43 and shares how painful this was for him. Then at the metalevel, he tells the TV series viewers that this story is actually fake, but what really happened wouldn’t make the point in the eulogy.

And here comes the controversy. Can you lie to your audience? No. But… but I think that you are allowed for some inaccuracy if it helps you reach the goal of the speech. I’m talking for example about telling a story without giving a clear indication of who the hero is and making the audience come up with it themselves. In some cases they might think that this was your story; or exaggerating some bits of your story, just like Frank did. You have to be absolutely sure that noone is going to see through it, because you will loose all your credibility in an instant. So it’s actually safer not to use this technique. Better safe than sorry.

People from the dawn of time tell stories to each other. Before the invention of writing, stories were the main medium of sharing knowledge and if you look at it from a certain angle – it still is. Just think about it – why video blogs are so successful? Why YouTube (among others) has such a big traffic? (and I’m not talking about cat videos here!)

Remember that the story itself doesn’t have to be connected to the topic, but it has to have a moral that supports the goal of your speech.

10. Invite another speaker to the stage

(the speech in front of the team for abolishing Social Security Act, S03E01).

When talking about the costs of the Social Security Programme, Frank invited his coworker to speak. Remy presented the results of a poll he conducted before. However short, his presentation showed that Frank is ready to give someone else the voice, someone who has done certain work. It’s a form of reward. He could have presented this short bit himself, but he allowed for a break in his dynamic speech and let someone else do it for him.

A person who was great at introducing guests on his stage was (again) Steve Jobs. Jobs was a visionary who was remarkable at presenting his vision and products. He was an expert in some topics but he knew the value of inviting other experts to share the presentations with him, like Jony Ive who talked about how he overlooked Apple creating a computer made of a single piece of aluminum.

By introducing other speakers to the stage, you will not only get their sympathy, but audience’s as well.

Here they are. Ten things about public speaking that you can learn from Frank Underwood. The character is fictitious and his words written by a scriptwriter, but these tips will really help you with your presentation skills. And when you’ll be watching another TV series, a movie or a play – pay close attention to what you can learn from its characters. Maybe you’ll be able to use this knowledge in your next speech, because when you’ll be entering the stage, you’ll have to keep in mind that the audience will have no mercy for you. You’ll have to be the hunter – the good speaker. And I wish you that.

Topics

Presentation skills

Content

“For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: hunt or be hunted.”

Frank Underwood

THE AUTHOR

Michał Kasprzyk

Michał Kasprzyk

Speaker, public speaking trainer

CONTACT

Did you like the article?

If you’d like the author of this article to share his knowledge in your company – let us know: contact (at) spicespeakers.com
10 things Frank Underwood taught me about public speaking (Episode 1)

10 things Frank Underwood taught me about public speaking (Episode 1)

ARTICLE

10 things Frank Underwood taught me about public speaking (Episode 1)

MICHAŁ KASPRZYK

“For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: hunt or be hunted.”

This philosophy presented by Frank Underwood could be adapted to public speaking grounds easily. When you’re getting on stage, the audience will have no mercy for you. You have to perform well or else the listeners will start talking and ignoring you.

I didn’t mention the fictitious politician from the House of Cards TV series produced by Netflix in vain. Francis, played flawlessly by Kevin Spacey, had to speak in front of a crowd more often than we were shown by the series creators for sure, but the several occurrences already helped me create a list of ten things you can learn from him about public speaking. It’s not an exhaustive list by no means (actually an in-depth analysis of each of his speeches could be longer than this whole article), but it contains the most important tips. Mind that there are mild spoilers ahead, which don’t have a big impact on enjoying the TV series. Ready? Let’s go!

1. Write your speech down

(the speech in front of the library, S01E08)

I know, I know, you probably start your preparations like most of the people – by opening PowerPoint (or any other slide-design software) and mindless slide generation. There’s a high chance that’s the only thing that you’re doing. The words will speak themselves, right? You know what to say – otherwise you wouldn’t have been invited to give this talk. If that’s what you think, I must warn you – there’s a long way ahead of you. If you don’t have proper experience in public speaking, then preparations are crucial. And writing your speech down is just one of the elements.

Before delivering a speech you should do a lot more (research, storyboarding, rehearsals, etc., which I’ll write about in another article), but writing your speech down will already give you a lot – it’ll help you structure your thoughts, estimate the length of your speech (1 minute is around 130 words) and limit the content (which prevents digressions).

Frank Underwood shows us another way to use it:

“I wrote a speech, but I’m not going to read it” – he started his talk. And of course – reading a speech is a terrible mistake in most cases, but there’s another point here. Frank shows his human face – “I wrote a formal document, but I’m not going to use it; instead – I’m going to tell you something from the bottom of my heart, improvised”. That’s smart! Was the speech really written down? It’s like Shroedinger’s cat – you wouldn’t know. Frank wins either way. This trick won’t work with every audience, but writing your speech down will not do any harm and in most cases it’ll definitely help.

2. Don’t write your speech down

(live TV speech, S03E02)

“Wait, what? You just…” Yeah, I know, but if you don’t write your speech down doesn’t mean somebody else will not do it for you – somebody who’s better at it than you. The speech from that episode was written by one of Frank’s employees – Seth Grayson – and it was bold, concrete and simple.

Let’s go a step further – you can hire a public speaking consultant, who can help you not only with writing the speech down, but also practicing it. Why is it worth it? Because each part of your speech will be in the hands of an expert – the content in yours and technicalities in the consultant’s. You know what to say and the consultant knows how to say it so that it resonates in the audience. A public speaking consultant will also help you with setting goals for your speech, designing slides, practicing the proper tone of voice and will make sure that you practice often enough.

3. Dress accordingly

(different scenes, e.g. S03E09)

Adjust your attire to your audience, occasion and your brand. Most of the time Frank wears a well-fitted suit which is more than understandable – he’s a politician in a high position and he has to look presentable. However there are a couple of scenes in which he wears something else. One of these scenes is when he speaks in front of a room full of voters, dressed in a plaid shirt and a leather jacket. This more casual look was supposed to narrow the gap between him and his audience and show them that he is one of them. If you look closer at the people in the room, you’ll agree with me that Underwood would look like an outsider in a suit.

It’s hard to list all the possible event-attire and brand-attire combinations, so let me give you a few tips with which you can’t go wrong:

  • Dress neatly.
  • Overdressed is better than underdressed.
  • Let your attire stand out from the background.
  • If your talk is going to be recorded – avoid any fine patterns like stripes and check – they don’t look good in video.

4. Shock

(eulogy, S01E03; live TV speech, S03E02)

“I hate you, God!” said in a church full of religious people is a quick solution for excommunication, right?

Not necessarily. If skillfully weaved into a speech, it triggers emotions not towards the speaker, but towards the situation which he describes. When speaking about the hatred for God, Frank was actually describing human weaknesses, which the audience could refer to.

“The American dream has failed you”. This a strong statement as well, especially when uttered to the whole nation of the USA. Frank shared an open secret which doesn’t come easy to any politician. He shocked his audience, disproving the universal promise given to the nation by the government years earlier, but he instantly suggested how he plans to make it up to them.

In my talks, I love to quote Jerry Seinfeld: “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” My listeners usually have their eyes popping out of their sockets.

Shocking information doesn’t need to relate to your audience. Of course it’s more powerful then, but at the same time it has a higher chance of offending someone or triggering the listeners’ defense system which means that they won’t be so keen on hearing you out.

You can use some shocking statistics or an emotional story. Or unnaturally big number that refers to something precious to the audience. Whatever you choose – remember that you need to emphasize this information, for example by making a pause.

By shocking you get the crowd’s attention which is particularly important when your speech is long.

5. Joke

(the speech in front of the library, S01E08)

They help easing the tension, loosening the audience members (and the speaker!) up, creating a connection and showing a human face. The best jokes are the ones that are connected either to the speaker or to the story or situation which he finds himself and the audience in in that very moment.

Frank, who’d spent the previous evening drinking with his friends, joked about how poorly he bears hangovers. It’s a human thing, isn’t it? Maybe not honorable, but human nonetheless. Many of us were in that same situation.

Remember that joking should be done skillfully. Never joke from someone, unless you are sure that the audience will understand it. Never joke from a situation if it’s tragic. It’s best to use proven gags and if the audience doesn’t get them, simply move along and don’t fret over it.

 

So that’s the first five tips on public speaking that you can learn from Frank Underwood. The second episode of the list will come in a few days and in it you’ll find mild controversies and rewarding employees by inviting them on stage (how can that be a reward?!) among other things. In the meantime, let me know what have you learnt by watching House of Cards.

Topics

Presentation skills

Content

“For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: hunt or be hunted.”

Frank Underwood

THE AUTHOR

Michał Kasprzyk

Michał Kasprzyk

Speaker, public speaking trainer

CONTACT

Did you like the article?

If you’d like the author of this article to share his knowledge in your company – let us know: contact (at) spicespeakers.com

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