“THERE ARE OLD PILOTS AND THERE ARE BOLD PILOTS, BUT THERE ARE NO OLD, BOLD PILOTS” ----well known aviation proverb
Not everyone can fly like a TOPGUN fighter pilot. But you can use the principles their instructors employ to significantly enhance your presentation skills whenever you talk at WEMCO, GAWDA, or any business event.
One of the benefits of taking flying lessons, which I have been doing for several years, is that they have opened the door for meeting a slew of interesting people. For example, meet my new buddy, U. S. Navy Commander (ret) Vincent Aiello (call sign Jell-O) who was both a TOPGUN graduate and instructor at the TOPGUN school, now located at a Naval Air Station Fallon, NV. We met through one of his podcasts that caught my “flying” eye.
Commander Aiello has developed rules for talking to groups that can elevate the presentations all of us are called on to make periodically to our customers, staff, sales team, and stakeholders.
Here are ten of ret Commander Aiello’s rules for giving TOPGUN quality presentations. With his permission I have boiled them down. Go to his podcast https://www.fighterpilotpodcast.com/musing/how-to-present-like-a-topgun-instructor/ for his expanded thinking on how to communicate more effectively. Master these rules (I know I’ve been guilty of missing on some of them) and you will find yourself presenting like a TOPGUN instructor—the proverbial “best of the best.”
1. MASTER the SUBJECT
TOPGUN instructors are the Navy’s SMEs, or subject matter experts, on their assigned topics. They research their topics exhaustively. Take the time to peel back more than just the top layer of your subject. Know everything about it.
2. TEACH ONLY RELEVANT INFORMATION
Present only what your audience needs to know. A pitfall of mastering a particular subject is the belief that you should share everything you know. The additional information comes in handy when questions are raised or a deeper discussion ensues.
3. REMEMBER: YOU ARE THE TEACHER, NOT THE SLIDES
The problem with slideshow presentations is that novice presenters become slaves to the slides and thus forfeit their value as the SME. Humans learn best from other humans. You are the teacher - use slides for whatever is necessary to get the point across but keep the focus on you.
4. ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS
Humans have short attention spans and eagerly drift away from the task at hand for the latest shiny thing. Wear neutral clothing, ask the audience to not simply silence their electronic devices but to temporarily abandon them to avoid temptation.
5. CORRECT MISTAKES AND MOVE ON
At some point in your presentation something is going to go wrong: a misspeak, double slide click, dropped pointer. Calmly restate the incorrect word or phrase. Click back a slide without fanfare, pick up the pointer, simply continue with what the audience needs to hear. Many presenters mess this up and draw unnecessary attention to their minor blunders.
6. TALK OR TEACH FOR NO MORE THAN 60 MINUTES AT A TIME, BUT ALSO NOT LESS THAN 30
People can only handle so much of anything in one sitting, even things they enjoy. If you blow past the hour mark, don’t be surprised if your audience begins to excuse themselves. On the other hand, segments less than 30 minutes feel choppy. Following this strategy helps you keep control of the audience and your agenda.
7. KEEP BREAKS SHORT
Keep breaks short or you will lose control. Five-to-seven-minute breaks are optimal, permitting your audience to use the restroom, grab a snack, say hello to a friend, and quickly check messages. In 15 minutes, breaks time loses meaning and everyone scatters.
8. DON’T BE TOO GOOD
I listened to one TOPGUN instructor who was so polished that it had a negative effect on me. I sat mesmerized waiting for him to make even the slightest mistake or slip. He was a machine. It created self-doubt in me that I could ever do the same. His talk that day was on bad-guy missiles and amid that self-doubt I did not learn as much as I should have. Do not come across as a machine.
9. ANSWER DEFINITIVELY ONLY IF YOU ARE 100% CERTAIN
If you are not sure of a question, ask for an opportunity to conduct further research and get back to the asker later that day or as soon as possible. This builds trust. Whatever your audience, they will be impressed if you ascribe to this standard.
10. LEVERAGE OTHER SUBJECTS
Take every opportunity to establish connections between subjects in the minds of your audience. This improves the overall credibility of your presentation. It benefits your audience by establishing mental connections between different concepts, resulting in better comprehension and retention.