By Ellen Cahill
After more than a quarter century coaching and training in The Business of Speaking, I have found that my clients know the value of an effective business presentation. They know this skill is needed not only in face-to-face meetings, but also on the phone and when using the Internet. They know they only have one chance to make a lasting impression. The know this skill applies, whether they are in an elevator, a client meeting, a boardroom or online.
Yet when I ask them how much preparation time they devote to their spoken messages before they deliver them, they sometimes sheepishly acknowledge, “A few minutes driving to work,” or “A half-hour after I finished my PowerPoint deck,” or “None, I like to wing it.” Many people are absolutely stymied by the process and don’t know how to prepare in an efficient way. They are also mystified by the mechanics of the delivery process, lacking any specific skill training that will ensure some amount of success when conscientiously followed.
While the speaker struggles, the business audience is becoming more and more unforgiving. The speaker is jockeying for room in the listener’s head with numerous messages, brief attention spans and competing technologies. The time spent preparing and delivering the message needs to be a constantly reinforcing development of a critical business skill. Here are five tips that have helped many business people deliver more effective spoken messages:
FOCUS. One big idea. Most people think they’ve received value from a business presentation if they learn one new thing or learn to think in a new way about something they already knew. Speakers must ask themselves what one idea they want their listeners to remember beyond any others. Then they must select only the data and examples that support it.
FIND THE NEED. Listeners are constantly asking themselves why they need to know information. A speaker must make sure that they are converting the features of their product, service or idea into a listener benefit. Great communicators spend sufficient preparation time learning and thinking about their listeners and designing their messages from the listener’s point of view – it’s the final reality check.
FUNNY IS GOOD. Research indicates that adults remember ideas better when they are associated with humor. It does not mean that speakers have to become stand-up comedians. The best humor is self-deprecating. The speaker establishes a connection to the listener by sharing a personal anecdote. The relationship is strengthened when they share the same viewpoint (humorous) about the event. Effective communicators don’t panic when the audience reaction is not one of uproarious laughter. In many business situations, a silent smile is appropriate. But it still means the same thing.
FLIP THE ORDER. Good communicators need to take a risk and go for broke. This means they need to organize with the most important idea first. While the listener is getting used to it, the speaker needs to repeat it at least twice more in other variations.
FEAR IS O.K. Being nervous before a speech or meeting is just fine. The rush of adrenaline in the speaker indicates that he or she recognizes the risk involved in the event. Like all rational human beings, no one wants to embarrass themselves by being boring, self-centered or not empathetic to the audience. Effective communicators connect with people visually for at least five seconds and avoid scanning. They are using their one-on-one communication strengths, at which most people excel, and they are using the nervous energy productively.
These five tips are certainly not the entire process of efficient organization and effective delivery of verbal messages; but using them consistently will help every business person to deliver more effective verbal messages.