Mellody Hobson: How to wow your audience

Interviewed by Beth Kowitt, writer-reporter

(Fortune Magazine) -- Mellody Hobson's defining moment as a public speaker came in the fifth grade when her teacher made her recite the poem "The Creation" by James Weldon Johnson.

The first time she did it, her teacher said she showed no emotion. She gave it another try and went on to win the district-wide speech contest for her school.

Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments

Instead of poetry, these days the president of Ariel Investments, a mutual fund company with $5.1 billion under management, spends her days presenting to potential and existing clients. You can also watch Hobson on Good Morning America, where she gives advice on such topics as tax deductions and credit card fees.

In between, she serves on several boards and makes speeches on investing. In a busy week Hobson can be in front of an audience 15 times. Here are some of her top tips for a memorable presentation.

Give a road map

My business partner (founder John Rogers) is on the board of McDonald's (MCD, Fortune 500), and every time executives there present, they start with a headline. The idea is that you've summarized for the audience what you're going to tell them. It's like a newspaper story. The lead paragraph tells you everything you need to know and then the supporting documentation is underneath in increasing detail.

Personalize it

I'm amazed by people who don't inject themselves into their presentation. It's so bland. You want the uniqueness of who you are to come through.

When I'm making a new presentation about Ariel, I start by talking about how [Rogers's] father gave him stocks instead of toys every birthday and Christmas starting at age 12. I say Ariel is a childhood hobby that became an obsession that became a company.

But when I'm giving a speech to people who are interested in learning about the market, I say that I didn't grow up in a home where the stock market was discussed. In my house we didn't have a lot of money. I let them know this so they can feel safe.

Keep it narrow

Focus your talk on no more than three ideas and ideally on one theme. A lot of people feel like they have to put everything they know in a speech to show that they're smart or that they've done a lot of work. Count on the Q&A to allow you to dazzle with other knowledge. Also, reading from slides is the kiss of death; send the materials first.  To top of page