26 Feb 2016

7 Key Tips for Writing a Great Talk or Presentation.


I bumped in to a business contact of mine last week. The last time I’d seen her was at a conference that I spoke at in November. ‘You were amazing’, she said, ‘you really grabbed my attention and I use the stuff you shared every day’. She went on to tell me that I was one of two ‘stand out’ speakers she’d heard over that two day conference. The other was a multi-million best-selling author, so I was happy that my message had been compared with his. I’m not telling you this to ‘toot my own horn’, but to demonstrate that anyone — even me! — can be a great speaker when they master the skills of writing relevant and compelling content designed to serve their audience. You can have all the charisma in the world, but if your message isn’t relevant, useful and compelling, then your speech has the nutritional equivalent of candyfloss; enjoyable while it lasts but leaves you feeling empty and with a film on your teeth, or brain.

That same speech also got me working with a global brand business. When you’re on stage, you’re the poster girl/boy for how it would feel to work with you and your business. My new client told me ‘we liked your “no nonsense” style and you direct message; you really understood our challenges’. So, let’s get started on the steps that will enable you to write relevant and compelling content for every presentation you deliver.

Imagine that you’ve an upcoming engagement to speak to a group of people, whether that’s to an audience of 500 or a group of 12. Take out a blank sheet of paper and start scribbling the answer to some key questions that will enable you to shape the content.

The first key question is ‘Who?’’ — Who are your audience? What are their needs and how can you help them meet those needs? Get in to the nitty-gritty on this one; imagine that you are in their shoes, feeling their pressures and desperate to solve their issues that are relevant to your area of expertise. Until you start to feel their ‘pain’, you can’t possibly harness the kind of passion you need to shape a message that will be meaningful to them. The challenges being faced by my audience at the November conference were several; they needed to deal with customer calls effectively so as to minimise return calls, and to ensure the customer felt satisfied with how the matter had been dealt with, whilst minimising call duration and call waiting times. Senior members in the audience were hungry for tips on how to influence the decision makers in order to prioritise the customer-facing agenda.

The next key question is ‘Why?’ — ‘Why?’ is about purpose. Why you? Why this message? The purpose of your message must be to solve or alleviate the audiences’ challenge(s) or to meet a need that they have. In my recent speech, my ‘Why?’ was to enable the audience to be remarkable in every interaction, and to understand how to positively influence outcomes. To be a meaningful purpose, I had to make it fit snugly with the problems sitting ‘front of mind’ for them.

The next key question is ‘What?’ — What do you want them to know so that you can help them achieve the ‘Why?’. The ‘What?’ needs to be practical; something they can ‘do’ or ‘say’ or a shift in how they can ‘be’. It needs to be capable of implementation as soon as their feet hit the floor. I wanted my audience to know that they have a choice about how to ‘be’ in every interaction, to understand the barriers to exercising that choice and how to overcome them. I shared many practical things that they could do or say. Choice is critical, because one size does not fit all.

Then we have another ‘What?’ — What do you want your audience to do once they get back to the heat of the battle? I wanted my audience to commit to doing only one thing; to cultivate one habit because I know that when we overcommit we fail, but when we succeed in making one change, and realise the benefits of it, we are far more likely to compound that benefit with more positive changes. So, having given the audience a range of options, I made it clear that they had to choose only one and do that one thing.

And then there’s another ‘What?’ — What will change for your audience once they take that action? How will their problem be solved? How will their life become easier? In my case, I knew that if my audience adopted one of the habits that I was urging upon them, they would feel more ‘in control’, less stressed and have a greater sense of calm and confidence about how they could influence in every interaction, including pushing themselves to a greater level of competence.

And then ask ‘Why’ should they listen to you, specifically? What’s your story or your expertise? How have you helped others in the situations that your audience members are currently facing? This is your chance to show that you understand – that you care, genuinely and authentically – and to be assertive with your message. I have coached senior leaders and junior staff in contact centre environments. I didn’t have to say that specifically, but I could demonstrate some understanding of the environments in which many audience members operated in the language I used and the stories that I told.

Finally, ‘How?’ — How do you want your audience to feel while they are listening to your message?’ Inspired? Confident? Empowered? Charged? Understood? Or perhaps all of those things. Above all, I wanted my audience to feel inspired to go and do that one thing that I was urging them to do in the call to action that I made at the end of my speech.

Look down at that piece of paper now. Your first ‘Why?’ should give you the tag line for your presentation and the promise that you will make to grab the attention of your audience at the outset. By saying ‘I’m going to share with you how to be remarkable in every interaction’ I had their attention. If I’d said ‘I’m going to share some brain science with you that will explain why we continuously fail to fulfil our personal potential’, I’m sure that many would have mentally switched off. Yes, I shared the ‘brain science’, and yes, I had to explain how we change our thinking habits, but that was a means to the end, and it’s the end that you want your audience to engage with right at the beginning. Keep relating the content to the ‘Why?’ as you mindfully walk through your presentation, so they know they’re on a journey with you to get to the promised outcome.

My guess is that if you’ve been populating that blank sheet of paper with the answers (in meaningful, relevant detail) as you’ve worked your way through this article, you’ll know exactly what you want to say, why you want to say it, why your audience will connect with it, and what they’ll do when they get back to their desks/factories/farms or sun loungers.

But if you haven’t yet got pen and paper in hand, here’s your last chance. Think about your next presentation. Ask yourself ‘Who?’ and take time to answer that question — thoroughly and empathetically — with a sincere intention to serve your audience. Then do the same with the ‘Why?’, ‘What?’, ‘What?’, ‘What?’, ‘Why ?’ and ‘How?’. If you don’t feel excited about sharing your message once you’ve a full page of notes in front of you, then go back to the beginning and feel the heartbeat of the person who will be sitting listening to you. After all, great presentations are never about you; they are all about those who have graciously given up their precious time to listen.