Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Were you Talkn’ to Me?

We’ve all been there…sitting through yet another mind-numbing presentation. Unless they’re lucky enough to have a front row seat for a speech given by Oprah or Bono, chances are the audience’s most anticipated words are, “and in conclusion.”

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. The bar has been raised and by incorporating a few of these simple guidelines you will have your audiences wanting more.

You may be wondering, how to make your content more interesting if it’s your job to deliver the news on next year’s complicated benefits? Or the latest changes in immigration law? It’s easier than you might think. Start by asking yourself, “Who’s my audience and what do I want them to remember?”

Be honest with yourself, if you quizzed your audience would they remember anything you just told them? Now, think about what makes you remember your favorite speakers. Most likely, it’s not pie charts or bar graphs.

Here are a few easy rules that will put more energy and excitement into your next speech and help you select the right content:

1) Use anecdotes to anchor your presentation: After you’ve thought about your audience, find the right story to illustrate your point. Remember how your parents read great stories to you or shared stories about your relatives, generation after generation? When a story is told with energy, passion and excitement, people are eager to hear what happens in the end. Illustrating your key point with a story virtually guarantees your audience will remember your message and pass it on.

Here’s a great example from the corporate world: An executive wanted his internal audience to remember that customer service was the company’s No. 1 priority. He shared a story about a mailroom delivery person named “Quincy,” who helped a co-worker find a functioning color copier after hers broke down so that she could complete a job for a customer on time. Everyone in the company now calls this the “Quincy” story. Follow this executive’s lead and find your “Quincy.” We want to hear about him.

2) Keep complex data limited to a handout: The perfect place for details and complex data is in a handout. Nobody can read that mice-size type on a slide in the back of the room anyway.

3) Incorporate props: A visual aid doesn’t have to be a PowerPoint slide. It can be an interesting prop. Is there a magazine that’s covered the topic? Hold it up when you refer to it. Is there a new product to promote? Bring it with you.

4) Take time to rehearse: Excellent speakers care enough about the audience to rehearse and they understand that the slides are only there to support their performance. By the way, your next audience called me and wants you to promise you will never, ever read a slide to them again.

5) Include appropriate humor: This doesn’t mean telling jokes. It means adding ad hoc comments at the beginning that engage the audience and weaving humor into your remarks.

6) Incorporate audience interaction: This tells your audience you care enough to know who they are and what they care about – and it has the added advantage of helping you settle your nerves and loosen up.

7) Save time for the Q&A: Think of the question and answer session as a second presentation, take time to rehearse and get to it fairly quickly. Chances are this is what your audience will remember most.

Author and developmental psychologist Howard Gardner said it best, “Stories help individuals think about and feel who they are, where they come from and where they are headed. It constitutes the single most powerful weapon in the leader’s arsenal.”

Take a cue from Gardner, load your arsenal with stories and these techniques and your next presentation might just be the most talked about part of your meeting or conference.

Sybil McLain is vice president for the Midwest for Spaeth Communications Inc., a training and consulting firm.

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