Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Above the Noise: Making Your Speech Memorable

As the former editor of a newsletter for marketers I have seen more than a 1,000 speeches and presentations. I would say that 5% of them were memorable and 10% sounded better than I remembered them later.

My favorites were the self-help gurus for business – the Tom Peters, Stephen Coveys, etc. Their advice was basic common sense and most people knew everything they said already. But they made their advice sound new and fresh every time. The simplicity of what they said and their delivery made their case. And I felt like they were talking to me – as though there was no one else in the room.

So I offer these tips for making your presentation or speech have impact in tough economic times.

1. Build Your Speech Around a Single Core Message. What do you want your audience to walk out of the room remembering about your speech or presentation? What is the core message that will resonate with them? Answer that question before you start and build the rest of your presentation around it. If it’s negative that’s OK, but find a positive in the bad news. Get their attention with the bad stuff and then make them focus on the good and on what they can do next.

2. Don’t Talk in Abstractions. We live in a Web 2.0 world and are blinded by messages all day long. The Internet is filled with filmmakers, writers, super heroes if you will, who basically tell you nothing. Don’t put up a lot of charts, graphs, endless slides, or speak in abstractions. I remember once seeing someone explain a logic model that was two dozen boxes connecting with lines that went in different directions. I raised my hand and said – but it’s not logical. And her response, “They all look like that.” Keep your talk direct and simple. That’s what makes it compelling.

3. Know and Discuss What Your Audience Cares About. What will get your audience fired up, make them cry, scream, yell, happy? Use it as an emotional hook. If business is bad talk about how it’s hurting all of us – how people are scared – but that we must rise above that and get through it together. Make your case with passion and purpose. Speak in the first person always. Modulate your voice. People are looking for hope and direction. Hit them right in the gut so they feel
emotionally connected to what you’re saying. Use “we” to let them know you’re in it together.

4. Use Video – It’s the World We Live In. I went to a conference recently where everyone was still using straight PowerPoint slides. Duh people. Remember YouTube? Show and tell – not just tell. My 13 year-old has been making films for three years. Words don’t engage me – images and words do. You are a senior marketer. Invest in a video camera. Go out and get people on video doing what you are talking about. It will make it all seem that much more real.

5. Deal with Doubt. The truth can be pretty harsh sometimes. PR people like to sugar coat things, to make them appear better than they seem. Read the web site of your standard PR agency and its all smoke and mirrors. Jargon and more jargon. What does it say – nothing. When things are bad don’t act like they’re not. Deal with the uncertainty. Acknowledge that it’s sitting in the room with you. Befriend it. Admit to sharing a pessimistic view that things may not get better. Discuss the potential for failure if we don’t rise to the challenge. Then inspire them. Make them feel your pain and your power.

6. Tell Memorable Stories About Real People. Anecdotes are one of the most powerful devices you can use in a speech, but they must be genuine and they should be about real people even if you don’t use real names. If you can’t say who it is then tell the audience “I’ll call her Donna because she wouldn’t want me to use her name.” Don’t ever use blind examples such as Client X, who is in the healthcare industry, got a 50% response rate to a social media campaign. I don’t care and neither will anyone else. Even if this is a real client - it sounds made up. Make the story your champion. And use anecdotes to drive home the main points of what you’re trying to say.

7. Talk to One Person in Your Audience. The best piece of advice I ever gave about presentations was focus on one person in your audience. Have you ever been on a date or at a meeting with someone who doesn’t look at you. How pissed off did that make you? Pick a person in the front row and look at them as you speak – talk to them. You will seem much more genuine and compelling. And don’t be afraid to walk away from the podium. When I give talks I like to sit on the conference table or if it’s a really corporate group just stay in my chair. I’m not the leader, I’m one of you. If you’re in a large room walk out into it. It works for politicians and it can work for you.

8. Finish with a Call to Action. At the end of your talk, ask for something concrete. Outline specific steps that must be taken. Make sure your audience knows what they’re supposed to do when they leave the room. And finish by reinforcing your core message, so it’s the last thing they hear before they leave. It’s OK to say “If I leave you with one thought it should be this.” Then tell them what it is.

9. Don’t Disappear. If your audience is engaged and inspired by what you’ve said, they want to talk to you. I recently saw a world renowned scientist make some dire predictions about the damage we’ve done to our planet. She read from her notes and didn’t look up much. What she said was so scary that we all paid attention. But after she was done speaking her entourage took her out of the room as though she didn’t want to sully herself with us. Stay for questions – you can put a time limit on them. Shake hands afterwards, exchange cards. It makes you seem accessible and real and memorable.

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