How, then, would the Amazon founder deliver a presentation about his latest big idea–a moon lander?
In a small invite-only event last week in Washington, D.C., Bezos put on his other hat–as the founder of Blue Origin–and unveiled a plan to carry out moon missions. It’s the first step, he says, to eventually building space colonies where humans would live off Earth.
Bezos’s presentation offers four valuable lessons for any speaker who wants to captivate an audience.
1. Use simple words and short sentences.
Use simple words to explain a complex subject to a broad audience. How simple? Bezos used words that a 4th-grade student could read.
I ran the script of Bezos’s presentation through a program called Hemingway to measure its readability. It relies on the same algorithm that educational publishers use to gauge the grade level of a textbook.
The first 25 minutes of Bezos’s presentation returned a grade level of four. It climbed briefly to level five as he got more technical, before dropping down to four again. Yes, Bezos explained rocket science at a 4th-grade reading level.
For example, Bezos said: “We’ve sent robotic probes to all the planets in our solar system. Guess what the best planet is in the solar system? Earth is the best planet. It is not close. This one is really good. Don’t even get me started on Venus. The Earth is incredible.”
The words and sentences are short. Almost all of the words are one or two syllables.
If Earth is so great, why do we have to look at living alternatives in space? Again, Bezos explained the problem in the simplest words possible.
“A very fundamental long-range problem is that we will run out of energy on Earth. This is just arithmetic. It’s going to happen.”
2. Put data in perspective.
Effective speakers choose a few key statistics and use concrete comparisons to put the numbers in perspective. For example, Bezos said:
“The historic rate of compounding of global energy usage is three percent a year…the equivalent of doubling human energy use every 25 years. If you take global energy use today, you can power everything by covering Nevada in solar cells…But in just a couple of hundred years, we’ll have to cover the entire surface of the earth in solar cells. That’s a very impractical solution.”
The solution, says Bezos, is to build colonies–not on the surface of planets–but in space. The colonies are based on a vision described by Princeton physicist Gerry O’Neill. What would these colonies look like? To explain, Bezos used a powerful rhetorical technique–analogy.
3. Find analogies.
When Bezos talks about an abstract idea or a complex technical challenge, he uses analogies to make it understandable. Here are a few examples from the Blue Moon presentation.
“These [colonies] are ideal climates. This is Maui on its best day.”
“The reason that launching things into orbit is so expensive today is because you throw the hardware away. It’s like driving your car to the mall and then throwing it away after one trip. It’s going to make trips to the mall very expensive.”
“We’re building the road to space.”
Bezos’s vision is to build the infrastructure so that future space entrepreneurs will build the colonies. His “road to space” analogy is a simple way to communicate the vision in a few words.
4. Deliver a multimedia experience.
The presentation opened with a video of the first moon landing. The rest of the presentation contained more videos, graphic simulations, and photos. There were no bullet points on any slide. Zero.
The text that did appear was minimal–a few words that reinforced his message. For example, when Bezos said Earth is the best planet in the solar system, an image of Earth appeared on the screen with the text: THE BEST PLANET IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM.
The wow moment happened about 34 minutes into the presentation. Bezos turned to his right and said, “Let me show you something.” A black curtain dropped and there, on stage, sat Blue Moon–the two-story high spacecraft that Bezos’s space company, Blue Origin, has been working on. Bezos guided the audience on a tour of the spacecraft, explaining its features and design.
Bezos closed the presentation with a simple photo that carries a big message. The photo shows Bezos sitting at a small, cluttered desk in 1994, the year he started Amazon. Bezos said, “This vision sounds very big and it is. None of this is easy. All of it is hard. But think about this. Big things start small.”
If you want to grab someone’s attention with a big, bold vision, you’ve got to do something different. Watch Bezos’s presentation for ideas on how to communicate your big idea.