Does your company do a good job of organizing your presentations? Do your employees who give business presentations understand their real goal, and then deliver a talk that achieves it? In your executive presentations, do you develop your message with your audience's preferences in mind—speaking in terms that engage and excite, yet still demonstrate your leadership?
Whether your company's presentations are to sell, inform, persuade, or inspire, you'd better understand how to organize a presentation with your stakeholders in mind. Naturally, you need a strong message. And your people's nonverbal communication and platform skills must excel. But your presenters also need to think in terms of what your listeners are looking for, and living in their world. (For tips on negotiating your way through challenges when you speak, download our cheat sheet, "7 Tips for Overcoming Audience Resistance.")
The Busy Business Speaker
Many, perhaps most business speakers make a fundamental mistake in preparing to give a presentation. It's both easy to understand why this error is made, and simple to remedy. The mistake is focusing too much on the content of one's speech, to the detriment of improving one's performance skills.
And why would this not occur? Most of us live inside a well-defined comfort zone when we give presentations, whether it's offering valuable information or speaking to persuade. This "information bubble" is where we feel secure, and so we reinforce the walls of this transparent prison at every opportunity. But we already have information coming out of our ears! As I tell my clients at Public Speaking International, we all need to spend less time on our content, and more time being comfortable in the presence of small- to large groups of listeners, practicing bringing them where we want them to go. That is all the more important in view of the temptation in our busy business lives to "just get the content down" and let the information fly, without a hint of on-our-feet practice beforehand.
Recently, one of my clients, an executive in charge of worldwide operating systems for his company, told me that his job in speaking to his teams was to convey information. "No, it's not!" I told him. "It's to accomplish your purpose with each audience. You use information to do so . . . but you use many other tools as well."
What follows are 3 key steps to make sure that you achieve the goal your company sets out to reach with audiences—whether they are prospects, employees, customers, or another type of stakeholder. Instead of rushing to throw together information, follow these steps to achieve true influence:
Step 1: Audience: Ask yourself a few critical questions before gathering information. To make clear to yourself why you need to do this, first ask yourself, "What would I say in my subject area if I were talking to my child's 4th grade class? To freshmen college students in my field? To fellow professionals at an industry conference? To a government panel considering legislation in my industry?
It should be instantly obvious that any talk you give would be vastly different based on the above audiences. In fact, you wouldn't know what to talk about until you'd gained some elementary information about your audience. So the first question to ask yourself should always be "Who?" rather than "What?"
The demographics of potential audiences matter, of course, along with age, level of education, degree of sophistication, political or religious viewpoint, and so on. But also ask yourself how much this audience knows, and how much they need to know. Information dumps are rarely attractive, even to unsophisticated audiences. What about the expectations, preferences, and values of these people? And is there an emotional context that may have an impact on whether and how your message is received?
A story was told to me by one of my diplomatic trainees at the State Department, of a speaker who was part of an international mission to Cambodia to discuss bringing the Khmer Rouge murderers to justice. This speaker, a lawyer, was talking to relatives of Khmer Rouge victims. The first thing the speaker said was, "I want you to all to understand that what happened here is not considered genocide under international law." What influence do you think this speaker was able to achieve after making this callous announcement to this group of grieving relatives?
Step 2: Purpose: Once you understand your listeners, you must decide on your specific purpose in speaking to this audience. Again, it is easy to neglect this step! The Busy Business Speaker, for instance, may make another appearance, spending all his or her time gathering that content! Left behind is the essential task of stopping, stepping back and saying, "Now, why exactly am I speaking to these people, and what do I want to accomplish with them?"
Having completed an audience analysis (Step 1), and so possessing a workable knowledge of the desires and expectations of this audience, it is an easy step to design a purpose that will work for both you and them.
Use an infinitive phrase, and make it active: "To demonstrate to and test this group on using the new software." "To motivate the sales team to come up with a team approach to finding new leads." "To teach and critique the new Deputy Chiefs of Mission at our embassies in handling challenges when giving media interviews." Remember: Your presentation needs to be purpose-driven and action-oriented.
Step 3: Engagement: Let's say you've accomplished Steps 1 & 2 above: you've conducted a thorough audience analysis, and you're now clear on your (active) purpose. And following that, you've put together a bang-up array of data to succeed with this audience.
You're set to go, right? No, you're not. Now you have to complete the third step to organizing a presentation: Deciding how you're going to engage this audience. Let me illustrate with another example:
A client, a cosmetic dentist, was going to be delivering a day-long training session to general dentists in another city. She came to me for help putting together a dynamic day for those fellow professionals. I asked her at the start of our half-day training session what she had planned for her training day. "I'm going to show a PowerPoint slide show on -------," she replied. "Great!" I said, "Sounds interesting. Then what?" "Then I'm going to give them a PowerPoint on --------." "Well, okay," I told her. "And then?" "Then it's lunchtime!" she said. I was almost afraid to ask, but I inquired what would take place after lunch, and she-- well, I think you guess what she said.
What this story reminds us is that for every presentation, not only day-long trainings like that one, the speaker needs to figure out how he or she is going to engage the audience. As I stated earlier, dumping information on listeners simply is not good enough. Do you want to change hearts and minds in your company's presentations? If your answer is yes, you need to think specifically how you will engage, entice, entertain, and generally seduce your audience. And that means understanding and succeeding at performing your presentation. You don't have to become an Oscar-worthy actor. But you do need to build in activities, questions, exercises, visuals, improvisations, or other elements that go beyond information delivery to actively keep your audience with you and enjoying every minute.
Are you up for that challenge? That's good, because your audience—but also you yourself—deserve that kind of presentation.
Key takeaways from this blog:
- Company presentations often focus on delivering information, neglecting performance.
- Successful speakers think about listeners' needs and live in their world.
- Your first question in organizing shouldn't be "What?" but "Who?"
- Perform an audience analysis and deciding on your purpose will be easy.
- To achieve great results, make your purpose specific and active.
- Once you've put together your content, think of how you will engage the audience!
My previous blogs related to this topic:
- "Start Strong! Give Your Audience a Greeting They'll Remember"
- "Body Language Secrets: What Self-Image Are You Broadcasting?"
- "The 4 Golden Rules for Using PowerPoint"
- "Curtain Up! — Adding Drama to Your Speeches and Presentations"