This is a guest post by Benjamin Loh.
Most of us procrastinate.
Be it for that big project deadline, impending examination, exercising or even… the dreaded taxes. We try to keep it off our mental enclaves for as long as we can until it dawns upon us that time suddenly becomes a precious commodity. At the eleventh hour, our productivity seems to peak dramatically as it is now negatively correlated with the time that’s left from the deadline.
Alas, this coping strategy works! Well, at least we delivered.
Sounds familiar? At least, I knew it did for me.
Now, if you adopt the same modus operandi for your upcoming major presentation, chances are that you will not be able to “wing it” and you may just fall flat on your face with a lackluster delivery.
Here are three key reasons why that will be the case:
- You won’t have enough relevant content –you need to invest time to research about the content and find out about more data about your audience.
- You won’t have enough deliberate practice – delivering a presentation is quite different from that of delivering an analysis report. The former needs you to practice deliberately and consciously. Doing so at the wee hours just before your presentation in the morning may prove to be sub-optimal.
- You won’t have enough moments of “speaking epiphanies” – presenting is like writing in that it is a creative process. You often end up with a good piece of writing from multiple sittings. In the same way, you are likely to be hit with ‘ah-hah’ moments on how you can better your presentation during your downtime and find more creative ways to deliver the same point so your delivery can be enhanced.
#1. Begin with the End in Mind
The late Stephen R Covey published his world bestseller on personal success titled, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Habit #2 is to “Begin with the End in Mind.”
In the context of goal setting, it is a two-step process of first envisioning (mental) and creating your desired “end” or goal or vision. Next with that powerful mental blueprint etched, you then act (physical) on it in a way such that your intentions manifest in your day-to-day actions. This way, you do not get lost in the hustle and bustle of your daily lives but you are still consciously building yourself towards a more significant future.
Now when it comes to your presentations, it isn’t that much different. You want to envision how you make your entrance, what you will say to grab your audience’s attention in the first 30 seconds, how you will segue into your main content, when will your audience’s attention wane and how are you going to get them back on track, how are you going to end with a solid call to action etc.
It is like mentally rehearsing your future on stage. Of course with a future, you will want it to be one that’s brimming full of hope and positivity, yes?
So it helps to think about what “ends” you like to achieve through your presentations. At Toastmasters International (TI), we are educated on the different objectives for public presentations. The main objectives of the presentations alongside their common examples of them are,
- To Inform – simple and no-fuss transmission of information from source to recipients. Examples include briefings, public announcements, walkthrough of protocols and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) explanations.
- To Persuade – delivered with intention to change or influence opinions, beliefs and behaviors about a certain subject matter for your audience. Examples include strategic management initiatives, investment pitches, petitions and campaigns.
- To Inspire – a deeper appeal to one’s emotions, values and feelings often with an element of uplift. Examples include motivational and inspirational talks, keynote speeches and charity and donors talks.
- To Entertain – lighthearted, casual, fun and often to make people laugh or muse on mundane matters or even, the “heavier” issues in life from a light perspective. Examples include stand-up comedies, wedding toasts and spoken poetry.
That said, your presentations can have one or more objectives. In which case, you will want to prioritize which are your key driving objectives and how the supporting ones can help you achieve your end point more effectively.
#2. Know Your Audience
To the guys out there, do you still remember the first time you planned a date for the girl you were wooing? Or if you haven’t had your first, think of someone you really like at this point of time. How do you go about deciding how exactly you want your date to turn out?
You’d ask yourself – what kind of girl is she? What does she like to do? What kind of activities will be better suited for her? Is she a more outdoor or indoor type of person? How will she like to be engaged? What kind of conversations will be meaningful? How can I get to know her better?
To the ladies out there, just think of your best date and how everything was so right. Or I hope it was. 🙂
The strange thing is that some of my clients will deliver the same presentation with the exact same content, asking the same questions, doing the same activities, evoking the same thoughts, deploying the same delivery techniques from the same angle with the same intention? Don’t you think the sameness in approach is grossly alarming?
Yes, the underlying mechanics of engagement may be the same but the form by which you engage your audience will be vastly different because every group of audience you speak to has shades of differences you need to appreciate and make sense of. The question then is how?
I often analogize delivering presentations to your audience as having a massive dating relationship with your audience. You need to do your homework to know them well before your point of engagement, that is, your presentation.
In the context of presentations, it will be useful to find out important information about your audience using a simple ‘4-P Framework to Understanding Your Audience’. These questions are meant to guide you on the extent and scope of due diligence before your presentation but they are not meant to be exhaustive.
First P: People
- Who are they?
- What are their occupations and associated impressions?
- What are their levels of their seniority (if in a corporate context)?
- What are their cultural habits or nuances? (High or low power distance, level of individualism? Read more on Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions)
Second P: Purpose
- What brings them to your presentation? (Volitional or mandatory)
- What are they most concerned with regarding your subject matter of presentation?
- What are their objectives at work or life in general? (Depending on subject matter of presentation)
- What are some of their deepest desires at work or life?
Third P: Pain
- What problems are they struggling with that can be resolved with insights from your presentation?
- What causes them to have the problems they are facing now?
- What are the potential consequences should their problems stay unresolved?
Forth P: Positioning
- Who do you have to be as a speaker such that your audience has a listening for you?
- How will they like to be engaged as an audience?
- What do I want them to say about me when they leave the room after listening to my presentation?
Asking the right questions gives you the necessary data to then reverse-engineer the best presentation you can deliver. And when you speak to a different audience, you know there is scope for creation and re-creation.
A structure for a presentation is like a wireframe. It gives shape and allows for a logical flow of information. It guides a presenter to proceed in a coherent and methodical manner so there is room for flow and spontaneity on the actual day of presentation
It’s quite a paradoxical thought at first but once you appreciate it, you will know why there can only be flow with structure.
There are two simple but useful structures that can be used interchangeably or in parts to make a more meaningful whole.
- Attention – an opening that interests and engages your audience in the first 30 seconds
- Interest – reel them into your presentation and let them know why you are the right person to speak on the subject matter. Also, establish the value for listening – What’s In It for Me? (WIIFM)
- Desire – evoke a deeper desire within them that addresses their pain and/or pleasure
- Action – invite your audience to take action now to close their gap between desire and reality
Universal Speech Outline
- Opening – Tell them what you are going to tell them
- Body – Tell them
- Point 1
- Point 2
- Point 3
- Close – Tell them what you have told them
- Call to Action (my suggestion) – Now that I’ve told you what I needed to tell, this is what’s next for you
I generally don’t fuss much about structures except that you want to take additional note about how you open and close your presentation. The former is critical because that’s when your audience is most skeptical and judgmental and you need to convince them what you are going to say is of importance to them and that you know your stuff.
Closing strong is also extremely important because it serves to round up and summarise what you have spoken on. You want to leave them on a high note and get them to act positively in a way such that their lives are changed for the better rather than go away thinking,
“Oh, that was a great talk. I was entertained and learnt a thing or two, but now what?”
#4. Delivery Methods
Have you ever sat through a three hours accounting lecture and struggled to stay awake because your lecturer was reading off the slides the whole time? I have. And trust me, it was painful.
The reason why I was disengaged was not just because the content was dry. Well, it could be that I was also lazy. Ok, I admit I probably was.
But there is a simpler reason – we just aren’t wired to have such long attention spans! Dr. John Medina, a molecular biologist and researcher conducted extensive research in the area of brain sciences.
He suggests that our attention levels take a nosedive after around 10 minutes into a presentation and if a presenter takes no effort to modify the mode and rate of delivery, attention level continues to stay at all times low and this not helps in information retention either.
Imagine filling up a bathtub with water but there are multiple holes at its bottom and water is leaking out even faster than you are filling it. That’s how most presentations are – the lack of effort from the presenter to engage is not helping to plug into the gaps but is puncturing more in the process!
To avoid this phenomenon of perpetual and increasing disengagement in your presentations, take the effort to plan a good mix of delivery methods so you “reset” their attention and keep them at the edges of their seats.
For ideas and inspiration on how to constantly keep your audience interested and engaged, read my previous guest post on ‘21 Ways to Deliver Interesting and Engaging Presentations’.
#5. Deliberate Practice
To adequately prepare for your presentation, you need to practice, period. And you have to practice in a deliberate manner. Sitting at your desk and reading off a prepared script is not deliberate practice.
How I advise my clients to practice their presentations is to do so while standing up and speak as if you are presenting to an actual crowd. If there is a juncture in the presentation you need to lean forward to the crowd, lean exactly as how you will. If you will need to ask rhetorical questions, practice pausing after the questions and be comfortable with the silence. If there are moments in your story where you need to gesticulate wildly, do so even though it may be silly with no one watching you.
The magic of deliberate practice is in doing precisely what’s required to keep yourself in an envisioned peak performance and constantly creating those moments when no one’s watching you. So when your audience is finally watching you on stage, your presentation comes off as natural, impeccable and effortless.
Great presentations happen not merely as a function of your natural smarts as an orator on stage but that of your hours and hours of dedicated and deliberate preparation so you give your best for your audience.
Because that’s what they truly deserve… isn’t it?
On the importance of practice:
About the Author: Benjamin Loh is an Executive Speech Coach, TEDx Speaker and a Personal Development Gen-Y Blogger. As the youngest Associate Certified Coach (as credentialed by International Coach Federation) in Singapore and possibly, Asia-Pacific, he coaches senior executives, Directors and CEOs in speaking effectively and confidently.