Three Tips For Great Presentations from the Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art Of War

Presentations can be difficult. Anyone who has had to stand up and present an idea in front of an audience knows that delivering even the simplest material can be full of pitfalls. Thankfully, though, after years of briefing two-star generals and beyond, legendary flyer John Boyd got it down to a fine art. Here are three tips on presenting your ideas from the fighter pilot who changed the art of war.

F86 and F15 In Flight

John Boyd wasn’t just a great pilot. A veteran of World War 2, Korea and Vietnam, his innovative theories about airborne combat transformed the way military aircraft were designed, giving rise to the likes of the A10 Thunderbolt and F-16 that proved so successful during Operation Desert Storm. But, like any visionary thinker, his ideas weren’t always met with support. Challenging the dogma of his United States Air Force employers who were more concerned with signing multi-billion dollar contracts for their corporate buddies than the performance of their fighter jets, Boyd needed to develop a briefing style that meant he couldn’t be ignored.

It’s not just military officers trying to put across their latest theory that can benefit from John Boyd‘s advice, though. Anyone who has to stand up in front of their peers and present them with facts and figures can learn some valuable lessons from the major who hosed colonel after colonel with his unprecedented knowledge. Sometimes, presentations can feel like a dogfight; why not tackle them like the most skilled fighter pilot in American military history?

Tell Your Audience What You’re Going To Tell Them, Then Tell Them, Then Tell Them What You Told Them

There’s a cliche that the higher up the military echelons you go, the stupider the people are that you have to deal with. John Boyd certainly thought so. To make sure he got his ideas across, he took the approach of telling his audience what he was going to tell them, told them, then told them what he’d just told them, just to make sure it sank in.

John Boyd believed wholeheartedly in his ideas and wanted to ensure everyone else understood them too. Keeping things simple and handholding your listeners through your presentation is an ideal way to make sure they take away everything you want them to; don’t make the mistake of assuming they’re all smart enough to pick out the key points by themselves.

Be Prepared to Answer Every Question Quickly and Confidently

If you want to sound authoritative about a subject, then you’ve got to be confident. John Boyd treated every question and comment in his briefings as an opportunity to dogfight his challenger; and he was rarely (if ever) defeated. The man known as “Forty Second” Boyd, due to the speed with which he could dispatch an opponent in simulated air-to-air combat, was just as deadly in the meeting room.

Questions shouldn’t be a way for your audience to undermine your ideas, but an opportunity to expand your thoughts in more detail. Always answer questions quickly and confidently and you’ll come across as a presenter who really knows their stuff. ** John Boyd** approached the questioning process like a duel; when challenged, always make sure you’re the winner.

Know Your Material Far Beyond What is Displayed on your Slides

Nothing undermines your reputation than sounding like you don’t know what you’re talking about. Listeners will tolerate mistakes, nervousness, disjointed presentation and other minor errors; but if you don’t know the detail then you’ll lose your credibility pretty quickly.

John Boyd was notoriously well-prepared for every presentation he ever gave. A ten minute briefing would be the result of months of study; there’d be nothing Boyd didn’t know about his subject. But that didn’t mean he’d overwhelm his audience with information, though. Make sure your tone is right for your listeners, but always ensure you know as much about your material as possible; you want to come across as authoritative, after all.

What do you think? Can John Boyd’s ideas help you win at presentations? Let me know in the comments.