By Steve Bareham | September 30, 2001
Verbal proficiency and power are orchestrated skills. Practice, practice, practice combined with specific tools will produce captivating presentations that fellow employees will beg to attend.
In business meetings or during verbal presentations, people often struggle to make their points or fall far short of conveying their true message. Even people with good brains and good ideas sometimes fail to knit everything together in ways that compel others to not only listen but to also support their positions. Such failure can be a serious matter. In fact, it can be a career killer.
Conversely, some people are extremely good verbal communicators who seem to quickly bring listeners onto their wavelength. Often, these people enjoy the most success and climb promotional ladders the fastest. So what's going on, is it something in their genes?
Fortunately, good presentation skills are learned not genetic, and each of us, if we take the time, can learn to use a system that can supercharge our ability to make points. Even people who are adept at putting solid arguments together in an impromptu fashion can further improve if they sharpen all the equipment in their "how to make a point" toolkit.
The following 20-piece toolkit includes 10 items that are conceptual in nature (planning) and 10 items that are specific tools proven to dramatize points for maximum impact. Make no mistake, it is neither quick nor easy to approach business encounters with such a comprehensive system, but if your career is important, the discipline of being systematic can pay enormous dividends.
10 Planning Tools
- Your topic must be relevant and rank high on the benefits, interest, and impact quotient (BIIQ). If your listeners don't see a potential benefit, if they aren't interested in what you're saying, or if they fail to see how your topic can impact them, they have no reason to pay attention.
- A clear goal: Exactly what do you want to achieve? If you don't know where you want to go, it's unlikely anyone will follow you there.
- Use a proven three-part structure when planning your presentation: State your premise clearly, provide convincing supporting evidence, and end with a powerful and concise conclusion.
- Logical categorization and sequencing: When confronted with new information, the human mind immediately seeks familiar patterns. By arranging your points in logical categories and sequences, you greatly improve the chance that people will follow you from beginning to end.
- Pre-educate yourself and others: The reason many meetings fail is because few participants have done their research on the agenda. In the absence of relevant readings and research material and the advance thought and preparation that they encourage, is it any wonder most business meetings achieve little?
- Show that you've done your research: Everyone respects those who come prepared and who have a complete grasp of issues.
- Will your novel angle grip people's imaginations? Average linear thinking is, well, average. With thought and creativity, it is possible to put a unique spin even on the familiarâ€”such lateral thinking is admired, and it's also more interesting.
- Anticipate the probable responses of other participants to your points: Might someone get emotional in a negative sense? What questions are people likely to ask? Will some oppose your position? Think proactively and be prepared.
- Timing: Is this the teachable moment? Even though you're ready to reveal ideas for something new, are other participants in an equally receptive frame of mind?
- Be clear about the actions that your are proposing and also about a timetable for planning and implementation.
10 Presentation Tools
- Use the anticipation of gain, one of the most powerful attention grabbers and motivators known to our species: Study your material thoroughly and never miss an opportunity to impress upon listeners exactly how they stand to gain.
- Fear of loss: If the anticipation of gain is important, the fear of loss (money, status, etc.) is a close second in terms of ensuring a rapt audience. Of course, it doesn't pay to highlight potential loss unless you integrate the next tool on the list.
- Research what experts have written or said: It is nice to think that everyone views us as experts, but demonstrating that respected "gurus" agree with you can greatly enhance the power of your positions.
- Quotations from well-known personas: People love clever quotations, and they help focus people precisely where you want them to focus. Supportive quotations are easy to find through books or via Internet research.
- Statistics: The business world revolves around numbers, and staff responsible for finance functions can either aid or inhibit most decisions regarding change or new directions. Whenever possible, ensure that your points are backed by irrefutable statistics.
- Problem and solution: a powerful presentation strategy for riveting attention. Every organization has problems; someone with convincing solutions is guaranteed an attentive audience.
- Contrast and compare: another effective tool for holding people's interest, especially when the contrasts and comparisons are dramatic. For example, "Our competitor grew revenues last year at a rate of 100%, while ours increased by only 50%; let's look at their marketing approach and compare it to ours."
- Anecdotes or metaphors: People identify readily with stories that help them put information into context, stories that clearly show how a theoretical concept worked in the real world. Metaphors are also a powerful means of helping people see logical connections.
- Integrate dramatic visuals: The majority of meetings depends largely on auditory stimuli (talking) to get points across; yet most people absorb information better with a visual component and even better still if there is a kinesthetic segment where they actually get to work toward an action plan. With the widespread availability of easy-to-use presentation tools, such as PowerPoint, almost every presenter can boost impact by giving meeting participants visuals.
- Use dramatic vocals: Even good information presented in a boring monotone can put listeners asleep. If you don't understand how to employ dramatic vocals (tempo, pitch, volume) consider a professional development program in public speaking to shore up your skills arsenal.