As a developing speaker, you may wonder how to improve your presentation skills to make a bigger and better impact during your speeches and presentations. It is difficult enough to maintain audience attention for more than a few minutes, and it is even harder to make sure they remember you after you’ve left. So how can you fill your talk with the crunchy bits which make it memorable and its points remembered?
Overall, the answer to that question is “make each point of your talk truly relevant to individual audience members.” A tall order? Perhaps, but usually all it takes is a little research into the make-up and concerns of your audience, as well as a little planning on how to relate various points to the group. We strongly recommend that you liberate yourself from your texts by developing a mental “kit bag” of techniques for relating to different audiences.
You may ask: “What things should the kitbag contain? Where do I find them?” We have outlined a number of them below:
Especially effective near the opening of a speech is a dramatic number highlighting business success or failure (e.g. sales are up 47% on A, down 75% on B), a social problem, (e.g. 700,000 runaways in your country) or presenting a little known historical or technical fact, or something totally irrelevant but catching (e.g. “Did you know that you are currently sitting on 8,427,000 square inches of mohair?”)
Statistics abound in newspaper and magazine articles, government, corporate and trade association reports. Trivia websites and books are great for providing those unexpected or humorous stats that audiences love.
Express your thoughts through some expert’s or celebrity’s words. The words “author” and “authority” have the same root. Use another author to heighten your authority. In addition to building authority, quotes can set a mood, incorporate humour, lend credibility and recapture audience attention.
Remember to always read long quotes, preferably from a book you hold up. Even short ones can be read effectively if you display them on a slide.
Quotes can be found on the web, in a number of anthologies, technical magazines, editorials and articles, newspapers, conference proceedings or great literature. Quotes by “Mom” are also always appreciated.
Real Life Examples
Specific, concrete examples are especially effective with a group you know relatively well:
“Mary, Farieyda and Tom all improved their sales this month”.
“We’ve made 6 improvements to Product A: Number 1 is ____, Number 2 is ____, etc.”
“We can improve funding by telephone soliciting of members of St. Andrew Women’s Guild, or a youth football game between the Lemon Tree Restaurant and Burger Burger.”
Let me, as an audience member, “see real people” doing real things. Don’t make me guess what your broad concept means to me, because it’s just not worth the effort.
Examples are everywhere around you, but they should be selected to relate to audience members.
These are simply formalized examples. They also represent one of the most ineffectively utilized content techniques… but, it’s not the technique that is poor. In fact, it can be one of the most effective.
Most users, however, overlook the fundamental rule of relating the material to the specific audience. It’s just easier to pick up a case study from a textbook and use it “as is” rather than to tailor it to a parallel situation in your own organization.
Case studies are one of the strongest tools in showing what can happen if certain behaviours, changes or procedures are followed. Because of this, they can be a powerful tool to bring about change in an audience and an organization. Management books and magazines, trade association white papers and other professional association groups give you the credible examples you need.
A cousin to the case study is the analogy. One of the best known analogies, perhaps, is Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. Your analogies might be short segments of a talk, or you might develop the entire speech as one analogy or parable. Develop a story which highlights only one behaviour… good or bad… and show the consequences. Keep it simple and relevant to your audience, and individual members will relate it automatically to their own situations.
Where to find them? Although they appear regularly in good literature, they are not always that easy to find, and, you just might be better off developing your own for your specific group. If you don’t want to go the full mile on this, you can use a few word association ones such as, “when the supervisor brays at the crew.” Braying, of course, reminds us of that other animal who does it regularly.
Normally, anecdotes are little stories of a minute or so which you tell in order to focus your audience on an issue. Frequently, the stories have a grain of truth (but it isn’t vital), and always refer to a situation very familiar to your audience. The safest route is to use generally familiar happenings: bucking the weather, making telephone calls, shopping, or waiting in line. You are seeking an emotional involvement with the point you’re making, so plan the story to be either poignant, dramatic or humorous.
Again, examples are all around you… just embellish them and exaggerate a little.
Tommy Douglas, the Saskatchewan provincial premier who introduced Medicare to North America, was also one of North America’s great political orators. He once told us, “I drive every important point home with humour. If audience members remember the joke, they remember the point.”
Many people are not comfortable with telling jokes, but humour has a dozen other forms, such as repetition, mentioning incongruous things back-to-back, or using examples that people have already found funny. You might say, “It was like Rowan Atkinson’s performance as Mr. Bean,” or refer to Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther, or some other thread of shared humour.
Another approach is to spin from the previous speaker, “Yes, Tom (twist around something he has just said),” be ridiculous, play on words or quotes which are funny. The rule here, really, is to be comfortable and be relevant. A joke just for the sake of a joke wastes both your time and that of your audience.
Overall, your credibility as a professional, or simply as someone who “knows your stuff,” is determined by the content of your presentation and your effectiveness in making the substance relevant to your audience. It is important to realize how an oral presentation differs from a written report or piece of correspondence. Two differences primarily affect how your audience receives and retains your message: the chance to go back and review a written communication, and the fact that the average person listens a small fraction as effectively as he or she reads. For these reasons, it is important to improve your presentation skills, because your oral presentation must be geared to force your audience to pay attention, and you should drive home your points with content individuals can relate to.