The real hard work that goes into a presentation should take place before you step up to the podium. Effective presentations are designed before they are delivered. If you aspire to be a breakthrough speaker, design your speech with the following components in mind.
Outcomes. When designing your speech, begin at the end. In other words, first determine your desired outcomes. What do you want your listeners to think, feel, and do as the result of your presentation? Design your speech around the thoughts, feelings, and actions you want to inspire in the audience. Think of main point or message you want your audience to take away. Make sure all the elements of your speech point toward that message.
In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes the effect of an excellent painting on an attentive observer: “What this person sees in a painting is not just a picture, but a ‘thought machine’ that includes the painter’s emotions, hopes, and ideas-as well as the spirit of the culture and the historical period in which he lived.” In the same way, think of your presentation as a “thought machine” that you are painting with words, tone, pacing, and gestures. Use the entire canvas of your speech, your “thought machine” to bring your audience to the desired outcome.
Title. Surprisingly, something as simple as a title can make a big difference in the appeal of your presentation. The title should both grab listener attention and promise a benefit. For example, a high school in Virginia had trouble filling a course titled “Home Economics for Boys.” The title obviously wasn’t grabbing the “audience’s” attention. When the school administrators renamed the course “Bachelor Living,” 120 boys immediately signed up.
Your Message. Of course, it isn’t enough to present any message. You must present your message. Goethe said, “In this world there are so few voices, and so many echoes.”
Consider what it is about your topic that matters to you, that affects you the most and that makes it yours. Your speech should not just be a dry report of facts and information. Rather, it should bring your unique perspective to the audience. When you discover your message, your passion for your subject will come across. Your passion is was will make your speech memorable To bring your message into focus, think about how you would want an audience member to answer the question “What was that speech about?”
Illustrations. Stories, examples, parables, metaphors. When I was younger, I read several books by Norman Vincent Peale. I always wondered why he told such long stories to make a relatively brief point. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized people don’t remember the points you make-they remember the stories you tell. And it’s by remembering your stories that they recall the points you illustrated with them. Stories are like mental coat hooks: they are places for listeners to hang ideas.
Where do you get the best stories to illustrate your ideas? From your own life experiences! Think back; review your life. Look for the important lessons you’ve learned, then recall the experiences, sad as well as happy, that taught you those lessons.
Just as variety is said to be the spice of life, so it is with illustrations in your speech. Be aware of the many illustrations in the world around you. They’re everywhere and in everything – from nursery rhymes to the Wall Street Journal – and they’re available to anyone who keeps an eye out for them. The people in your life are a gold mine of illustrations. Some of my best material has come from cab drivers, airline attendants, my clients, and even my postal carrier. The world is filled with ordinary people doing and saying extraordinary things. Be an observer of people, and share what you’ve learned from interacting with them.
Humor. George Burns once said, “I am a comedian. If people do not laugh, I’m a humorist. If people don’t get it at all, I’m a singer. If I sing and they laugh, I’m a comedian.” The best use of humor in a speech is to illustrate a point. If your audience thinks your point of humor is side-splitting, that’s great. But even if they don’t think it’s funny, it will still help get your message across and help establish rapport.
Entertainment. Finally, keep in mind that education and information are typically best delivered on the wings of entertainment. In fact, probably the best advice I on speaking I ever received was 20 years ago from then Ohio legislator David Johnson who told me that every audience wants to be entertained. Today’s successful speaker is an informer, but also a performer. It is vital for a breakthrough speaker to capture and hold an audience’s attention, and to do so, you must be interesting at the least and, ideally, entertaining.