Let's face it: presentations that succeed at the speaker's goals are challenging things. In my opinion, they are also more rare than we like to make out. We therefore have to ask ourselves the question: What strategy or practice will make us more successful at giving them?
How about both strategy and practice? They are both needed, of course. In this case, the before-you-speak part, i.e., the strategy, has more of an edge than the delivery skills needed, though that's important too. Let's delve into what's going on here, and why too many presentations don't succeed at what they set out to do.
We'll proceed along the lines I suggest above: considering strategy first, then the platform skills that will bring it all home to your audience.
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Know Your Purpose . . . Your Specific Purpose!
'Strategy' in the public speaking sense really comes down to knowing who your audience is, and what your true purpose is in speaking to them. I'll assume for this article that you've done an audience analysis and understand what your listeners need, i.e., the reason they're here in person or cyberspace listening to you.
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Once you understand an audience's needs, your purpose in delivering this talk should become very clear. Let's take a hypothetical situation. You're a sales director at a software company. The company has created a new version of a popular program, and the salespeople need to be educated in the changes and upgrades so they can explain that to customers.
Your purpose here as the sales director planning a presentation is simple: to educate your audience of salespeople on the features and performance of the new product. If, on the other hand, your sales force already knows about the new software and you're about to launch it, you might give a talk to them to inspire them to go out there and sell it like crazy. Here's the key point here: the difference between the infinitive verb to educate (in the first instance), and to inspire (in the second) changes everything concerning the content of your presentation!
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Why? Well, in the first instance, once you know that your specific purpose is to educate, you're immediately tasked with bringing in data, examples, scenarios that might roll out with customers using the new software, perhaps a hands-on session where the salespeople try it out, etc. If, on the other hand, your purpose is to inspire them . . . well, other material will be needed. Your content will be directly tied to your need to inspire them. That means inspirational stories, examples of people who earned high commissions by doing this or that, some inspiring language, and probably some high-energy delivery from you.
The alternative to not knowing your specific purpose like this begins to look like most presentations: a speaker delivering information to the audience, without an internal guide to what that presenter wants them to think, feel, or do as a result of the talk. When you're focused on your true purpose, on the other hand, you're not only zeroing in on what you're really trying to do. You're also helping quantify your success. (You'd be smart to include some metric whereby you can judge whether listeners' thinking or feelings are now aligned with your intention. Whether they take an action, of course, is easier to see.)
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Sit In Your Audience's Lap As You Deliver It
Now, let's discuss the performance part. And yes, I'm speaking metaphorically with that headline. (You . . . get back up here on stage!)
This actually involves a quick last step before you're ready to rehearse and deliver your speech, so that you accomplish your goal on stage. Your goal now in performance is to make listeners understand the value and the benefit to them of what you're saying. So, the last-step-before-rehearsing becomes asking yourself: "How can I fine-tune my content so it resonates with listeners and reaches them 'where they live'?"
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In other words, since you understand your audience (remember the audience analysis?), you need to live in their world as you share your topic with them. The implication here seems to me to be crystal clear: everything you say needs to be framed in their terms: their lives, their experiences, their job, and especially, their need to hear this information. Once you accept that, you'll begin to find ways to phrase what you say so that they are always front and center.
That means, for instance, replacing every "I" and "my," with "you" and "we." It means referring to their team, company, or industry wherever possible, perhaps even to individuals you know. It means looking for evidence or examples that come from their world, not your own. It might be as simple as switching from saying: "Here are the biggest problems I think this industry is facing right now," to, "So, let's talk about the biggest problems in the industry. As risk officers, you've seen these time and again, so this won't be new to you."
Notice the "let's," as in, let us; mentioning their job specialty; and the two times you said "you" as part of your last thought. You might think of speaking like this as performing your purpose. Actually, that's an excellent way to think of the process I've been discussing here to succeed in your presentations: Strategize until your purpose is a big fat softball you can't help seeing, then step up to the plate and perform like a champ.
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking and overcoming speaking fear. His company, The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom executive coaching and corporate group training worldwide. In 2022 for the ninth consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of the Amazon Best-Seller How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was named in 2019 as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." His handbook for presenting in videoconferences, Speaking Virtually offers strategies and tools for developing virtual presence in online meetings. His latest book is Speak for Leadership: An Executive Speech Coach's Secrets for Developing Leadership Presence. Contact Gary here.
Climbing photo: Mike Foster on Pixabay.