By: Dr. Alan Weiss
Even if you're not a professional speaker, you will often have to present a speech for a client, a civic group, a trade association, or a social club. By a "speech" I don't mean a report or a facilitation of a meeting. I mean that you're responsible for delivering information to a group of people for at least 30 minutes or more in an engaging and positive manner.
Piece of cake.
Here are the basic components of a first-rate presentation:
First, prepare a catchy opening. It doesn't have to be humorous or clever, but it should capture people's attention. (An audience usually decides in the first two minutes of a talk whether or not to pay close attention to the rest of it.) You might say that you have a very different report from what people expected. Or you might quote some statistics ("We are the seventh largest group of our kind"). You may foreshadow the rest of your talk by citing the fact that there are five important points you want to convey. Whatever you do, the first two minutes will be key, so put yourself in the audience's shoes, and use an opening that would cause you to sit up and listen.
Second, in the "body" or middle of the speech, create a clear structure you can work around. For a 30-60 minute talk, I suggest 5-7 points. Support each one with an anecdote, example, or facts. If your overall theme is "How to increase membership," your five points might be:
Our membership history
The composition of our current membership
Competition for members
Sources of new members
Actions required for attracting new members
If we were to take point #3 as an example, supporting anecdotes, examples and facts could include:
3a. There are now 27 sources for similar interests, whereas there were only 7 two years ago.
3b. The impact of cable TV and the Internet
3c. A conversation you had last week with a prospective member who is still undecided
If you want to take questions, do it after the "body" but prior to the close.
Third, create a closing which summarizes the five main points and then calls for the action you wish from the group. The closing should have a formal ending and a "thank you," and not just drift off into vague questions.
Some other rules of thumb: Don't tell a story for the sake of the story. It must be relevant to your point. Don't use humor at someone else's expense, although self-effacing humor almost always is effective. Repeat all questions, to give yourself time to think and to allow everyone in the room to hear them. Don't overdo visual aids-PowerPoint is almost always overkill. Some overheads will usually do the trick if the group isn't too large, but keep the visual professional and in very large type. Don't present things that are already in handouts and which can be read later. Control the room-if someone gives you a hard time, tell them to see you later, but that you owe time to the group and not to one-on-one debates. If you don't know the answer to a question admit it, and ask if anyone else does.
Finally, no speech is the turning point of Western Civilization. Prepare carefully, do the best you can, and then go home. You'll find that you did much better than you would have thought.
This article concludes five years of the "hot tip of the month," spanning categories from rebutting objections to establishing fees, and from professional development to marketing. I'm bringing it to an end here not because I don't have more to say--a continuing stream of books, tapes, articles, and newsletters will attest to that--but because this forum is becoming unwieldy in its sheer volume.
This edition brings us to the 60th entry, one a month, unfailing, for our duration. All the tips will remain on these pages, indexed, for complimentary downloading, ongoing reference, and incentive for new readers.
This final "hot tip" is my ultimate tip, not just in the sense of being the final one, but in terms of being, perhaps, the most important.
If you want to be successful as a consultant, speaker, trainer, facilitator, coach, or entrepreneur in general, here is the ultimate tip: First be successful as a person.
As Popeye said, "I am what I am." Robespierre observed that no man has the ability to step outside the shadow of his own character. You must be comfortable with yourself as a contributing human being if you are to be comfortable and successful as a contributing professional.
I've found very, very few good, hard working people who fail dismally as professionals. Similarly, I've found few conniving, insincere, unethical people who succeed spectacularly in their work. Oh, there are temporary anomalies, and we've all had bosses at one time or another who should have been lobotomized for the good of the company, but those are the exceptions.
If you're reading this, you're probably not an "organization man" (or woman). You're an entrepreneur trying to do the best you can running your own practice or business. And, funny thing, I've long noticed that the harder I work, the luckier I get. The more that I plan and anticipate, the more the breaks tend to fall in my direction.
If you improve your own performance as a person, you'll improve your business. Are you creating happiness, and not just consuming it? Are you a sincere lover, an engaging friend, a loyal colleague? Do you do what you say you will do, and is it predicated on what's right and not just what's expedient? Are you tolerant of honest differences but intolerant of unethical behavior and corrupt actions?
Your clients don't have to like you, but they should respect you and admire you (and liking you, of course, doesn't hurt). How does your family regard you? How do your friends react to you? How do your colleagues perceive you?
Ultimately, as Billy Joel sang it, we all have to get up with ourselves. Are you a person whom you would respect and admire as a friend? If not, what do you have to change about yourself? If so, then how do you also convey that in your business?
The job is merely a means to an end. Your life is that end. How are you living it?