Weave key points and stories together during your presentations

Your presentation is a week away. You've been procrastinating for months but now the Senior
Management Meeting or Rotary Club luncheon is looming and you're feeling a little panicky. You want to wow 'em but you don't know where to start. Here are some inside tips that professional speakers use:

  • If you have an hour, limit the number of key points to 5 or less. Focus on these and forget trying to pack everything into your speech. The more you try to stuff into a speech, the less effective it becomes.
  • If you are one of several speakers, it's wise to construct your speech in modules. This way, if the speaker before you goes on too long, you can remove one of the modules and aren't scrambling at the last minute. In other words, for a one-hour speech, construct your four points into 4 fifteen- minute "mini-speeches".
  • The best speakers know the power of storytelling. For every key point, think of one example or story/analogy. Personal stories are best because they captivate the audience's heart and soul and connect to their own experience. They will remember the story and that will be the mental hook that reminds them of your key point.
  •  If you speak often, keep a journal of examples and personal stories that you run across in your day-to-day life. Even the smallest encounter with a store clerk or your children can make a wonderful example to make a point in your speeches. Don't worry about whether the story will fit a particular topic. Often the best illustrations of a point are made with an analogy from another part of life.
  • Think about the construction of your speech. Without structure, the audience doesn't know how to categorize your information. One of my favorite constructions is "circular," that is, open with a story that sets the tone or illustrates the theme, then weave that theme throughout the other key points, and finish with a strong closing story that ties back to the opening story.
  • Don't read from a script. It may feel safe but it drains the life out of your delivery. Instead, write down bullet points with key words, pictures and phrases that will instantly stimulate you to make your point and tell your story.
  • Use visuals to enhance your speech, instead of hiding behind them. As soon as the focal point becomes the Powerpoint slides or computer graphics, you've lost the best part of your presentation: yourself. For example, you can blank the screen by touching the "b" key on your laptop, while you tell a story or discuss a point with the audience. Also, be careful not to stand in the dark like an anonymous narrator. When possible, only dim some of the lights.
  • Use more pictures and graphics in your visuals, rather than packing them with data. And never use a graphic that makes you say, "You probably can't read this but..."
  • Speak to one person at a time. The best way to connect with your audience is to look individuals in the eye- not at the back of the room or down at your notes. Better yet, get out from behind the podium.
  • Consider using props to make a point. I know a business owner who brought in flower pots, soil and seeds to her small group of middle managers. As the managers planted their seeds, she talked about the importance of growing people, nurturing their ideas and showering them with praise. Needless to say, growth of their plants and their people became an enthusiastic endeavor.
  • Don't be afraid to get the audience involved. Most audiences become bored and listless unless you engage them. Simple techniques such as pairing up to discuss an issue, sub-grouping to do a case study or individually taking a short quiz are all ways to reinforce your key points.
  • If you want to entertain questions but you suspect you won't get any, consider asking the audience to form small groups and have each one generate one question. This way they have a chance to discuss what you said and ask a question in a "safe" way.
  • If you tell a joke, make sure it makes a point that relates to your material. Starting a speech with a few jokes to "warm them up" is useless and confusing unless it leads to a key point. 

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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