Want to meet the world’s greatest influencer? Even though it's not a person, I'll introduce you:
Ladies and gentlemen . . . meet television.
Dazzler of billions, known as The Glass Teat (or Boob Tube), Baby-Sitter, Goggle Box, and The Eye, television is the master persuader of our age. And whether you agree with the late Ernie Kovacs that “television is a medium because it is neither rare nor well done,” the small screen has much to teach you when it comes to quick and efficient communication. (To engage listeners and become more memorable when you speak as well, download my free cheat sheet, "5 Ways to Captivate an Audience.")
Why T.V. is Successful
Television has been spectacularly successful in reducing people’s attention span—and then plugging itself snugly into that smaller space. Equally important, T.V. has taught us that critical information succeeds when it is delivered swiftly, with a visual kick.
So if you're a speaker who must convince listeners in short order—say, in the 30 seconds it takes audiences to judge you—you can benefit from television’s techniques. You too can learn to broadcast messages concisely yet powerfully, and even include a visual component.
Follow the five steps below. While it may not get you your own sit-com, you'll be a more concise and impactful speaker for having done so.
1. Decide on your objective. Let’s start with the persuasive tool par excellence of television: the commercial. Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, commercials seduce and persuade like nobody’s business (except the advertiser’s). With extreme conciseness, sponsors show us how to home in on our objective and achieve it with maximum efficiency.
Advertisers do this because they want to sell, right? Well, so do you! Whether it’s a product, service, idea, or vision, a crystal clear objective to make that “sale” will lead you to the influence you desire. What exactly do you want your listeners to think, feel, or do as a result of your speech? Just remember to always give your purpose pride of place in your mind over the sheer delivery of information. Your presentation is never about "explaining" or "informing" your audience about this or that: it's about moving them, which you do by explaining that particular thing. Of course, you should also learn how to analyze your audience for greater success.
2. Use an effective hook. Think of a commercial you enjoy (come on, I know you have at least one). The first time you saw it, weren’t you intrigued at the beginning of the spot? Didn’t the quirky, or startling, or funny, or outrageous nature of the ad pull you right in? Here in similar fashion are 12 foolproof ways to open your speech or presentation.
Whatever your essential message is when you speak, it won’t resonate unless people are with you when you get to it. If you hook their interest at the start, they’ll be with you at the end. If you don’t, they won’t.
3. State the problem and its solution. Here’s a T.V. commercial of the type you’ve seen many times. It’s a series of visual images: (1) Four-year-old boy chasing the family’s new puppy, laughing and tumbling all over the front lawn. (2) Mom looking at his pants draped over her arm and frowning at the ground-in grass stains. (3) Shot of detergent box. (4) Mom smiling at the same pair of pants, now sparkling clean as she holds them at arm’s length.
We get it all: a problem and its solution, presented as succinctly as possible. Television does this seamlessly with visuals. As a speaker, you need to use visuals too, and not only the ones you show. Your brush also consists of words. And so you must…
4. Paint word pictures. Studies have shown that visual stimuli can be the most dynamic element of persuasive nonverbal communication—as well as having strong, fast, and lasting impact. That means you must not only use visuals when you present your ideas, but you must speak in visuals as well. Paint a picture with words, and the image will captivate your listeners.
In the beginning of Shakespeare's most famous play, the ghost of Hamlet’s father might have said this to his son: “I could tell you how my own brother murdered me, but it would shock and horrify you too much.” Instead, the character colors his palette this way: “I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, make thy two eyes start from their spheres [and] each particular hair to stand on end like quills upon the porcupine.” Talk about packing a verbal and visual wallop! My old playwriting professor's opinion was that if Shakespeare were living today, he'd be working in television, and I can believe it.
5. Tell it all in the form of a story. A story, that is, that illustrates your point. When time is short or the opportunity is fleeting, you have to state your point clearly and immediately back it up with evidence. Of forms of evidence, among the most powerful is a story.
When you present your evidence in the form of a story, you’re saying: “Look, I don't want to just throw some data at you. Let me show you what this means in terms of living, breathing human beings. . .” Your illustration that follows, with people involved and a successful outcome, will make your information come alive. Again, think of those mini-stories on television, either programming or commercials, that make their point with maximum effect. "Open up a story book" and you’ll have your listeners hooked—within that all-important 30 seconds or less.
And if you're leading a meeting or an organization, here are the 5 essential speaking techniques of leadership you need to know about.
Key takeaways from this blog:
- Television has a lot to teach you concerning quick and efficient communication.
- Like T.V., you can benefit from including a "visual kick" with your information.
- Be crystal clear on your objective and you'll get audiences listening.
- Hook an audience, then quickly state your problem and its solution.
- Paint word pictures and tell it all as a story. You'll be exciting to listen to!