Why are most corporate presentations and speeches generally weak? I"ve wondered this for years. Despite all the fancy Powerpoint graphics, consultants and all the money spent, most presentations fall short of the mark. It can all be avoided by following a few simple steps--I'll mention seven key ones here. I'm intentionally skipping over delivery techniques, which I'll cover later.
* Have a clear message: many speakers start in reverse, by loading their speeches with content. They start with content--data, product information, etc--and it gets weighted down before it starts. Better to think on one clear message you want to deliver, or perhaps three-and build everything around it. The simpler, the better (think about the theme of The Tipping Point. Simple). If they don't remember anything else, what is the one message you want them to remember when they leave?
* Have something to say: Develop a strong opinion on an issue, state it clearly, and never meander or apologize for it. Audiences respect someone with a clear, single-minded point of view, even if they don't agree with it. Be interesting, engaging, and stick by your guns. And think big. Jobs talks about revolutionizing the music and entertainment business--how much bigger can you get than that?
* Wrap it around a story. People quickly forget facts and statistics, but a well delivered story will stay with them a long time. The story has to be on message, well thought out, and delivered in a punchy fashion-- make it impactful. Practice it until you have every word and pause memorized,and then practice some more. Sometimes it can be as simple as an experience with a customer, or on the baseball field--but it has to make a clear point and resonate with the audience. Stories are the soul of your speech. The best speakers are great story-tellers.
* Mind the details: What's the room setup? (temperature, stage setup, etc). Who's
speaking before you? What else is going on at the event? Who's going to introduce you--and did you write their script (you should). And then there's the
demos--dozens of details to deal with. Don't leave it to chance. Click on the (Jobs) story below to see how he attends to details. His team can spend hundreds of hours on a speech that lasts 45 minutes. I've heard of his speech writers getting calls in the middle of the night because a couple of small details--say, about a demo--weren't taken care of.
* Deliver with passion: Audiences can tell within 30 seconds if
you're passionate or faking it. Better to be overly exuberant, then a dead wallflower.
Everything in your delivery--from your facial expressions to your voice
and gestures--should deliver a simple message: You believe in what
you're saying. Is there any doubt that Jobs believes iPod (and Apple) rule? You can see this in his delivery style, and body language--every bit of his presence tells you he's passionate and believes in his mission (and yes, treat it like a mission).
Passion can carry you a long way. Many years ago I gave an inspirational
speech in a statewide Toastmaster conference,
entitled Dare to Dream. It was about growing up under my father, a
refinery man, in Texas, and being inspired by him before he died at an
early age (see Remembering a Good Man) . Even though my delivery was not as strong as some of the
more experienced speakers, my passion for my subject overrode my
inexperience. I came in a second place (the winning speaker was a black
woman with a beautiful booming voice who spoke eloquently about the power and influence of Rosa Parks on her life).
* Know your audience--this is critical, and it goes beyond age and gender. What is their attitude, opinion of you and the subject? What is their experience level, knowledge, and interest in the subject? Do they even care? What are their hot buttons? What keeps them up at night?
* Last, of course, is practice--how many times have you heard it? But few people practice enough. Don't just read the script--actually practice it as if you're delivering it. Ideally this means rehearsing on stage, but if you can't do that, at least find a big conference room.
Some executives memorize the speech, others the key points, and then fill in as they go (always memorize your opening and closing). When I was serving as an executive speechwriter at Sun, Jonathan Schwartz would seem to internalize his speeches in a couple of days. He would think through each major point, imagine it from different angles, and even how the audience would react when he delivered it. When he delivered it live he and the speech would seem to be one.
Have someone videotape you, and get some objective feedback--better from a speech coach, but a trusted adviser will do in a pinch (no family members, pls.)
Jobs takes some of these items--such as detail management and practice--to extremes. But the results are well worth it. His obsession with perfecting the pitch shows in every presentation. See how he does it here: Steve Jobs, speaker
(Thanks to Guy Kawasaki for this reference, a pretty good speaker in his own right. Guy's blog)