Dolly Parton – six lessons on presentation skills from the expert

So now Worthy Farm is gradually getting back to normal, the cows are wondering what all that fuss and noise was about, Michael Eavis, his family and colleagues have breathed a few sighs of relief, and we can look back and ask – what can Dolly Parton* at Glastonbury teach us about communication and presentations skills?

Yes, this is the latest in our series where we look at major events and draw tenuous lessons that can be applied by procurement people. But seriously, watching Dolly (just on the TV I should say) getting around 100,000 people at the festival eating out of her hands did get me thinking about what makes a great performer. And seriously again, the many procurement conferences and events I attend would be better, happier, more successful events if everyone involved learnt something from Ms Parton.

So here we go with Dolly’s Six Lessons.

  • Bring some energy to the party! Dolly bounces on stage – “Hello Glastonbury! It’s great to be here”! And she’s off. From the first second, there’s a tangible energy and life in what she does. Try and bring some of that to every communication situation, and certainly where you’re speaking to a large group.
  • And look like you’re pleased to be there. If you look miserable as sin at the prospect of speaking, why should those listening feel anything but the same? Smile. Make direct and regular eye contact with as many people as you can – you can do that even with a large audience and in a business setting it is a great way of getting and keeping attention.
  • Say thank you. “I’m so pleased to be here, this is amazing” says Dolly. OK, maybe don’t overdo it if you’re speaking to 10 people in a Regus meeting room in Rotherham, but there’s always someone to thank – you can thank people for listening, or for asking good questions, or for inviting you in the first place.
  • Give them what they came to hear. Dolly said something like this early in her set. “I know you want to hear some of the old songs, so we’re going to do them”. If your presentation title says “Latest thinking on buying IT services”, don’t spend 75% of your time talking about your new staff training programme.
  • BUT.. also don‘t be afraid to ‘make the sale’, as long as you don’t overdo it. I’m often amazed at solution providers at conferences who don’t actually tell the audience why they should buy their product. So Dolly says, “as well as the old favourites, we’ve got a new album to promote - that’s why we’re on tour, so we’re going to play a few songs from that too”. Fine. Put it out there, don’t be ashamed. Just don’t labour or prolong it too much.
  • Stories work and a little humour can be very effective. Dolly’s tales - told a thousand times no doubt – about her husband, her look, her upbringing, transmit warmth and humanity even if they’re not all hilarious in truth. But nothing rude, sexist or similarly dodgy please.

Now of course your communication task is easier if you’ve written brilliant songs such as Jolene, My Tennessee Mountain Home or Coat of Many Colours. But even if your content is not quite up to hers, you can still learn a lot about presentation from the amazing Ms Parton.

* And by the way, anyone looking down on Dolly, she is worth somewhere between $450 million and $1 billion according to most sources. And Dollywood, her theme park in Tennessee, which we visited a few years ago, is surprisingly tasteful and a very enjoyable day out!

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