Pointers for drawing in and tightening up a listener’s focus.
By Laura Stack, MBA, CSP
Although the focus of every talk will vary, supercompetent speakers share an overriding goal for each presentation: to create a remarkable, fulfilling experience the audience members will take to heart, put into action, and remember long afterward.
To do this, you must snare the audience members’ attention immediately and not let go until the final word. If your message resonates and lands in the heart of your audience members, it can light a spark that causes them to go out and take action or change their behavior. So your content must be useful and engaging to your listeners from the instant you begin speaking, so they realize immediately what they’ll miss if they don’t give you their undivided attention.
Consider these pointers for drawing in and tightening up a listener’s focus, applicable during both the preparation and delivery phases of your presentation.
Know your audience. Everyone listening to you is thinking, on some level, “What’s in it for me?” To connect with them, you must be able to answer that question and demonstrate why they should care about what you’re saying. So research them thoroughly in order to comprehend their level of knowledge and what they hope to gain from your talk. Interview audience members via phone before you speak, so you can understand their needs and goals. The closer you can get to an instinctual knowledge of your listeners and what they want, the better you’ll do.
Give yourself plenty of time to prepare. Don’t just “wing it” or cobble together something on the fly. Schedule sufficient time to research both your audience and tailor your content thoroughly. Formulate a solid objective, create a logical outline to help you arrange your thoughts, and boil your ideas downto your core message. Tailor your language to fit the audience, and keep your facts clear, concrete, and easy to understand. Provide specific, achievable advice, not just generalities they’ve heard a hundred times before.
Practice makes perfect. Once you have all the pieces in place, rehearse your presentation several times. Present it to a test audience, if possible, to help smooth out any hitches.
Aim for distinct and different. Try to stand out above the other presenters (though not to a disturbing extent). Avoid using a standard visual template for your presentation and never just read your slides. If you’re not great at PowerPoint design, hire someone to create exciting slides. Create a compelling title rather than a boring, descriptive one.
Ooze credibility. To really make an impression, you must come across as authentic in everything you say: from the way you dress to your enthusiasm and originality. Present with confidence, and more importantly, come across as the expert you are. The listener requires faith in your knowledge. Present as an authority on the topic with confidence. Never lie, make false claims, or present illogical conclusions.
Engage their emotions. During your presentation, grab your listeners’ emotions and hold on tight. Smile. Let your passion and enthusiasm for the subject shine through, and focus relentlessly on the positive. Include memorable stories that engage the conversations they’re having in their minds. If appropriate, ask questions and invite audience response. All this will help them synch your message with their memories, making it more likely to stick in the long run. Try to touch their hearts and give them hope, transferring your own emotions to them in a positive, effective way. And don’t forget to include a call to action!
Finally, relax. You’ll communicate better, and the audience will take you more seriously than they would if you were jittery. Nervousness kills credibility. Careful practice and preparation will see you through on this point. Keep in mind the old saying: “Never let ’em see you sweat.”
Laura Stack has consulted with Fortune 500 corporations for nearly 20 years in the field of personal productivity and is the best-selling author of several books, including “Supercompetent.” She is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) and the 2011-2012 president of the National Speakers Association (NSA). Stack’s productivity-improvement programs have been used worldwide at companies such as Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Cisco Systems, and Bank of America. She is the creator of The Productivity Pro planner by Day-Timer. For more information, visit www.TheProductivityPro.comor www.NSAspeaker.org.