Recently a Fortune 500 company hired me to coach one of their young executives for an upcoming speech. The talk would be part of a company-wide conference, and this executive was scheduled to deliver his presentation four times over as many days.
The executive was young, extremely bright, and since he was foreign-born, had an accent. Because his audience would consist of the top leadership of the company, his boss wanted his presentation to be as dynamic and memorable as possible. (For tips on how to speak on important occasions, download our cheat sheet, "4 Characteristics of an Influential Speaker.")
The Right Place, Right Time . . . and Videotaping
My office is in Boston, and the young executive was in Cleveland. The conference would be held in Atlanta. I suggested that if possible, the full-day coaching session should take place in the actual room where the presentation would be given. The company agreed, and flew us both to the conference center in Atlanta from different directions.
So we worked—just the two of us in a cavernous conference room—that entire day. Since this was the venue of the actual speech, we were able to use the real space as we practiced how my client would look and sound as authoritative as possible. It was a luxury I know we both appreciated.
At one point, he said, “You know, my boss says you’re one of the most expensive speech coaches in the country.” I grinned slightly, tried to look worth the money, and kept my mouth shut.
After some further discussion, we ran through the introduction to his speech while I videotaped his performance. Then, since credibility was going to be a critical issue for this presenter, I coached him for thirty minutes on ways he could open his talk with more power and authority. Again, I taped him. Then we watched both versions.
When he saw the second take, his jaw dropped.
“Wow!” he said. “That’s incredible!”
“That’s why I’m so expensive,” I replied calmly. (Of course, I was inwardly thankful, given his earlier comment, that our session was proceeding so positively!).
Stories Matter . . . What's Yours?
Do you believe at this point that, as a speech trainer, I know what I’m talking about when it comes to presentation skills? If you do, I’d venture to say it’s partly because of the story I just told you.
I use that true story as evidence not only to illustrate what I’m discussing in this article, but to maintain my own credibility with you, the reader. This tool will work exactly the same for you when you speak.
Stories provide one of the most effective approaches you’ll ever find for boosting your credibility with listeners. And since the whole idea is to influence your audience in some way, you desperately need such authority. Stories from your own experience that resonate with listeners give you that “brand of authenticity,” while usually making your message much clearer for your audience.
And contrary to what some people think, relating your personal experiences (if you choose to take that route as a storyteller) doesn't detract from your believability. It actually adds to your credibility and humanity, since audiences realize you have something at stake in what you're talking about, and that it isn't just "all business" with you.
So put this essential tool in your presentation toolbox. You wouldn't believe what a difference it can make in your effectiveness! Why, I remember the time I gave a speech . . . .