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Presenting Tips – What Bob Dylan Can Teach Us

Robert Zimmerman aka Bob Dylan is a bit of a marmite character. Whether you love or hate him, at 80 years old and still recording and performing, you can’t deny his longevity. As someone who has been delighting audiences for over six decades and now a Nobel Prize winner, there’s a great deal to be learned from Dylan.

As event professionals, we believe that Bob can teach us all a thing or two about presenting to an audience and that is why we have compiled these eight presenting tips all inspired by Bob Dylan himself.


8 Presentation Tips from Bob Dylan


Learning from the Best

Look to your contemporaries for inspiration but also look to the past and those that have lead the way. This can be in your specific field of expertise or in terms of more general presentation skills. Study the trailblazers and incorporate their very best techniques into your presentation style.

A young Dylan learned a great deal from his hero Woodie Guthrie and much of his early work was inspired by Guthrie’s political folk songwriting. When Guthrie died in 1967, Dylan continued to utilise Guthrie’s style and message.


woody guthrie

Woody Guthrie – Image via Wikimedia Commons Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington

Practicing Your Art

It’s a cliché but the more you practice delivering your presentation, the better it will become. Not only will you get more familiar and comfortable with the material, but you will be able to adjust the pace and identify areas where you need to improve.

A young Bob Dylan cut his teeth in the basement bars and cafes of Greenwich Village, performing regularly on the open mic folk circuit of the early 1960s. The process of playing live improved Dylan immensely as a performer, transforming him from a shy teenager to a self-confident performer ready to take to the world stage.


Speaking to Your Audience

It’s important to tailor your presentation to your audience. Take time to understand their needs, expectations and adjust your presentation accordingly. Use language and references that will communicate directly with them and inspire them.

Bob Dylan was an expert at speaking directly to his audience.  With tracks like Masters of War and Blowin’ in the Wind, Dylan gave a voice to the anti-war movement and helped unite the peace movement.


Delivering Quality Content

Content is king when it comes to presentations. When you are planning your presentation, ask yourself – is this necessary? what purpose does it serve? Once, you have all the most relevant information, turn your attention to structuring your presentation, the language you will use and your delivery. When it comes to presenting, it is vitally important to do everything you can to keep the audience engaged with your amazing content. Having a strong sense of narrative helps keep your audience interested as does the use of imagery.  The best presentations, like poetry or song, will have their own rhythm that keeps the audience engaged.

Some people will argue that Dylan’s voice is not the best. In fact, there are those that go as far as saying that Bob Dylan has a terrible singing voice. We would argue therefore that it is Dylan’s command of language, delivery and imagery that gives his work gravity. The seminal Blonde on Blonde album was full of intriguing imagery and metaphors that transfixed many listeners. Whereas tracks like Hurricane and Tangled Up In Blue showcase Dylan’s storytelling ability, where he uses various narrative and rhetorical devices to get his point across.



Surprising Your Audience

It is all too easy to allow your audience’s attention to wane. Your job as a presenter is to stop them from daydreaming. They may be hungry, in need of caffeine, or addicted to Twitter  and that is why you have to constantly subvert their expectations and surprise them to earn their full attention. This may be through encouraging interaction, employing a range of stimuli, or just doing something that no-one has done before.

When Bob Dylan went electric with a full band at Newport Folk Festival 1965, it shocked the musical world. Folk fans felt their acoustic hero had betrayed them by going ‘rock’, resulting in the infamous Judas heckle. As radical as the change was, Dylan garnered new fans and created a truly exhilarating sound that would go onto to influence countless performers. Dylan has continued to reinvent himself throughout his career, finding new fans while keeping the old on their toes.


Working with the Best

It doesn’t matter if you are co-presenting with someone, have an assistant, a member of the audience or even if you’re quoting someone – make sure they are the best. Also, make full use of facilities and in-house staff and technicians – trust that they know their venue and equipment.

Dylan recorded and performed for many years with The Band leading to some of his finest material. He also collaborated with artists such as Johnny Cash, Pete Seeger as well as the Traveling Wilburys with George Harrison and Roy Orbison with equally impressive results.


Bob Dylan and the Band

“Bob Dylan and The Band – 1974” by Jim Summaria – Wikipedia Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Influencing Your Peers

If your message is strong – be this through originality or just expressed with great clarity – it will get communicated and spread across your industry organically. The best presentations leave people inspired and with key takeaways that they feel compelled to share with their peers or use themselves in their own communications. With the popularity of SlideShare, Prezi and other presentation-sharing software, there are ways of ensuring your ideas continue to circulate long after the presentation ends. Through this process, you will become regarded as an influencer.

From Joan Baez to Frank Zappa, the Byrds to Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan’s songs have been covered by high profile artists. He has seen his songs, their messages, and more generally his influence extend to reach huge and diverse audiences.


Using Visuals and Props

Using the right presentation visual aids and props can reinforce your message and make what you are saying have real impact. Many of us respond to imagery, whether this be data visualisations, videos, or memes. The use of visuals to support your argument, get your message across and engage your audience is essential.

Dylan’s much-copied and parodied video for Subterranean Homesick Blues highlights the power of simple visual imagery to communicating your message.


bob dylan subterranean homesick blues


And there you have it, presentation tips from Bob Dylan. Follow Dylan’s tried and tested tips on presenting and you will reap the rewards over and over again …


Dylan and Obama
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