Weiss Advice Issue: 134, October, 2014
Even if you’re not a professional speaker, you will often have to present a speech for a client, a civic group, a trade association, or a social club. By a “speech” I don’t mean a report or a facilitation of a meeting. I mean that you’re responsible for delivering information to a group of people for at least 30 minutes or more in an engaging and positive manner.
Piece of cake.
Here are the basic components of a first-rate presentation:
First, prepare a catchy opening. It doesn’t have to be humorous or clever, but it should capture people’s attention. (An audience usually decides in the first two minutes of a talk whether or not to pay close attention to the rest of it.) You might say that you have a very different report from what people expected. Or you might quote some statistics (“We are the seventh largest group of our kind”). You may foreshadow the rest of your talk by citing the fact that there are five important points you want to convey. Whatever you do, the first two minutes will be key, so put yourself in the audience’s shoes, and use an opening that would cause you to sit up and listen.
Second, in the “body” or middle of the speech, create a clear structure you can work around. For a 30-60 minute talk, I suggest 5-7 points. Support each one with an anecdote, example, or facts. If your overall theme is “How to increase membership,” your five points might be:
- Our membership history
- The composition of our current membership
- Competition for members
- Sources of new members
- Actions required for attracting new members
If we were to take point #3 as an example, supporting anecdotes, examples and facts could include: ?
- There are now 27 sources for similar interests, whereas there were only 7 two years agago.
- The impact of cable TV and the Internet
- A conversation you had last week with a prospective member who is still undecided
If you want to take questions, do it after the “body” but prior to the close.
Third, create a closing which summarizes the five main points and then calls for the action you wish from the group. The closing should have a formal ending and a “thank you,” and not just drift off into vague questions.
Some other rules of thumb: Don’t tell a story for the sake of the story. It must be relevant to your point. Don’t use humor at someone else’s expense, although self-effacing humor almost always is effective.
Repeat all questions, to give yourself time to think and to allow everyone in the room to hear them. Don’t overdo visual aids-PowerPoint is almost always overkill. Some slides will usually do the trick if the group isn’t too large, but keep the visuals professional and in very large type. Don’t present things that are already in handouts and which can be read later.
Control the room—if someone gives you a hard time, tell them to see you later, but that you owe time to the group and not to one-on-one debates. If you don’t know the answer to a question admit it, and ask if anyone else does.
Finally, no speech is the turning point of Western Civilization. Prepare carefully, do the best you can, and then go home. You’ll find that you did much better than you would have thought.