People across the world were shocked and saddened last Saturday night by the news of Whitney Houston’s death. The powerhouse singer was only 48 at the time of her death, and though the last years of her life were drug-fueled and full of turmoil, she was one of the most successful female musicians of all time. She won 415 awards throughout her career, including 2 Emmys, 6 Grammys, 30 Billboard Music Awards and 22 American Music Awards, making her the most awarded female act of all time. Her masterful, goosebump-inducing version of Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You is the best selling single by a female artist in music history. So for those who spent last Saturday night drinking beers and listening to Houston’s greatest hits, here are a few presentations lessons we can learn from the singer.

Houston may not have been the greatest songwriter or the biggest superstar or the most consistent of artists, but boy, could she sing. That voice. Those unbelievable pipes. Few vocalists can grasp an audience’s attention so raptly when singing for 45 seconds unaccompanied by music. Despite the fact that she didn’t blow us away with her songwriting, she used her best asset to mesmerize the world. And mesmerize she did.

Remember this during your presentation. You aren’t the best at everything (sorry to break it to you), and it’s important to know your strengths and play to them. If you’re great at storytelling, tell the most epic story of your life. If you’re excellent at relating to other people, make everyone in the audience feel like you’re their best friend speaking directly to them. If you tell great, sidesplitting jokes, tell the funniest joke your audience has ever heard. Maximize your strengths. Employ them to your advantage.

Grantland’s Jay Caspian Kang makes an apt observation: “When you listen to a Whitney Houston song, you don’t connect with the words or the theatrics or even with the performer. Inspiration, instead, comes from the possibilities embodied in Whitney’s voice. Whitney didn’t give hope by saying, ‘I believe the children are our future.’ She gave hope by showing that there were no natural limits to what the children could accomplish.” As we incessantly keep hammering home on this blog: show, don’t tell. Houston gave hope to her fans by showing them it can be done, not by saying how it can be done.  She broke down racial barriers for black female artists, like Michael Jackson did for black male artists before her. She inspired whole generations of women by showing them that anything is possible. She led by example, which is the most effective way of conveying meaning.

Include your personal expertise and experience in your presentation. Be confident. Show the audience that you know what you’re talking about. Show the audience why they should trust you. Show them why they should believe in you. Lead by example. Convince your audience that what you’re proposing can be done and use specific examples to show them why.

Unfortunately, Whitney Houston didn’t have many nice things said about her in the last years of her life while she was seemingly stuck reeling in drug abuse, but she was once a force to be reckoned with. She was once someone to look up to and learn from. Rest in peace, Whitney.





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