In Part 1 of this article Most Feared of all Leadership Skills: Public Speaking, I provided four strategies to help create and kick off your presentation.  Today I focus on tricks you can use during the presentation to really make your ideas “stick”.

5. Use the Three-Part, Three Point-Presenting Process

Have you ever sat back and analyzed how you try to convince someone of something? 

When I finally did, I realized that ultimately a presentation is you making a series of points that you hope the audience will find valid, even compelling.  As such, the better a job I did at convincing them the majority of my points held water, the more successful a presenter I’d be.  As such, I’ve adopted a specific and systematic approach to each point I’m trying to make in a presentation.  I call it the “Three-Part Point-Presenting Process”.

It looks like this:

  • State your point/thesis
  • Provide a specific example that you believe demonstrates your point is valid.  Specific means it’s the opportunity to tell a story of a specific instance, that you can then indicate has proven valid in the majority of cases.
  • Indicate to the audience why this is important to THEM.

That final step is the one that most people skip over.  Here’s an example of how I would use the above approach in a presentation to educators, in an effort to convince them that we need to put more emphasis on the development of self-awareness in the education system:

  • State your point/thesis
    We need to ensure that young people can identify how they can add value to their own lives and the lives of others with the same proficiency they can write tests and essays.
  • Provide a specific example that you believe demonstrates your point is valid.
    During a presentation two years ago, I asked a brilliant student who had received numerous scholarships a single question, “why do you matter?”  He completely froze up, and was unable to offer any answer at all.  Thinking that I had put him on the spot, I asked another student in the room, who had the same response.  Since then, I’ve asked hundreds of the most intelligent, dynamic, passionate, well-educated students in the world that same question, and 9 times out of 10, they can offer no answer at all.
  • Indicate to the audience why this is important to THEM.
    You want to have your heart broken?  Those of you with children, go home tonight and ask them that question.  Watching how they struggle with it should be all the convincing you need that we need to do a better job making sure that our students are not their own worst subject.  Everyone here takes pride in being an educator, but I ask, how can we call what we’re providing an education if the most well-educator of our children cannot answer the question “why do you matter?” because they’ve never been asked it before, and never been convinced they should be asking it of themselves?

Again, many presenters do a great job with steps 1 and 2, but it’s asking yourself, “how can I make it clear why this matters to the audience” that takes your presentations to the next level.  Don’t assume they’ll figure it out, lay it out for them.

6. Be Indispensable to the Presentation

We’ve all been in the audience for a presenter who simply places text-heavy slides on the screen, and then reads them to us.  If you’re anything like me, five minutes into the presentation you’re thinking, “just give me a copy of the slides, and we can all get out of here much faster!”

The fact is that you should be indispensable to the presentation – 80% of the content should come from you and not any slides or visuals you might use.

However, the idea of remembering that much content is really intimidating to many people, and as a result, they bring extensive notes and spend most of the presentation reading them or referencing them.

If I was to ask you, “can you memorize and present a 30-minute presentation?”  What would you say?  Many of you would believe that given enough time to practice it, you could probably pull it off, while some of you would simply say, “there’s no way.”

I think that the key is to make sure you don’t look at a presentation as being 15, or 30, or 60 minutes.  I prefer to break presentations down into a series of 3-minute “segments”.

If you don’t think you can remember a 30-minute presentation, make your challenge remembering a 3-minute “joke”.  A 30-minute presentation is just ten 3-minute “jokes”.

The bonus is, you get to use your slides to remind you what joke comes next!  And each joke has an opening, a middle, and a closing. These happen to coincide with Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of the “Three-Part, Three-Point Presenting Process” outlined above.

When you create your presentation, ask yourself, “what are the main points I want to make?”

Put those points (and those points only) on your slides.  Those points are the “Part 1” of the 3-Part process I outlined above.

Now go through each one and identify what you are going to say for Part 2 (coming up with a specific example that demonstrates your point), and Part 3 (how you’re going to demonstrate it’s important to the audience).

Practice going through each slide and saying Part 2 and Part 3.  If you find that you can’t remember them, add a little bit of information to the slide to prompt you.  Try to get used to presenting using just onscreen prompts to remind you of what comes next, rather than relying on notes.

Why do I call them “jokes”?  Well, jokes are supposed to be fun, interesting, and something people will enjoy listening to.

By thinking of each point in a presentation the same way, I think you’re more likely to craft points that succeed in being interesting and engaging.

7. Mentally Tap into the Internal Play-by-Play of the Audience

Next time you’re watching a presentation, note the dialogue that’s probably going on in your head.

You’re likely providing yourself with a color commentary like you’d hear watching a sports event on TV:

  • “I see what he’s trying to say there, and it would work sometimes, but he seems to have forgotten about the fact that…”
  • “I really liked what he said there!  I’ve always thought that, but haven’t heard it put that way before!”
  • “That would really work in our office, when I get back, I should talk to X about what he’s saying here.”
  • “Yeah, that might have worked in his experience, but how would I apply it considering that…”

As speakers present, every single member of the audience is making comments to themselves about what they think of it, both positive and negative.

Great presenters anticipate these comments ahead of time and use them to craft their presentations.

One young woman, upon hearing me talk about this “internal play-by-play”, exclaimed, “yes, that’s exactly what scares the heck out of me about presenting!

I KNOW that everyone in the audience is evaluating me at each step!”

That may very well be true, but instead of finding that fact intimidating, use it to your advantage to show the audience that you’ve given some thought to the things that might concern them.  At every stage of crafting your presentation, keep asking the following questions:

  • What will the audience be thinking at this point?  Should I address those thoughts directly or leave them be?
  • What could the audience be doubting or questioning at this point, and how can I address those doubts/answer those questions?
  • What is the most appropriate way for me to acknowledge the thoughts going on in the audience’s heads, and what would it take for ME to be convinced?

By playing Devil’s Advocate to your own arguments, you’re going to show the audience that you’re aware of potential weaknesses, and more importantly, you may identify ways to immediately address the questions they’ve raised in their heads, which increases your credibility and impact in the eyes of the audience.

Playing Devils Advocate

8. It’s About THEM

Which presentations are the ones that truly engage you? 

I bet if you think about it, it won’t be the presentations that provide you with fascinating information you’ve never heard before – it will be the presentations that make you think about things that have happened (or are happening) in your life, and ways the information you’re receiving could impact your life as you’re listening to the presentation.

When you present, you are the one giving the presentation, but ultimately the presentation has to be about the audience.

As a result, while you should always be telling your stories, you should practice finding a way to make the audience think of their own stories while you do so.

This takes practice, but by paying attention to developing this skill, you will make your presentations much more engaging.

For instance, look back at all eight tips that I’ve given you in this article.

Each and every one of them started with something designed to engage you, the audience, in the story that I wanted to tell by asking you to tap into a part of YOUR story.  Here are the eight opening sentences provided:

  • When was the last time you chose to speak in front of a group?
  • What do you talk about most in the day, the things that make you happy or the things that make you angry?
  • If I asked you right now to simply “tell me your story”, what would you say?
  • Do you remember a feature on cell phones called T9?
  • Have you ever sat back and analyzed how you try to convince someone of something?
  • We’ve all been in the audience for a presenter who simply places text-heavy slides on the screen, and then reads them to us.
  • Next time you’re watching a presentation, note the dialogue that’s probably going on in your head.
  • Which presentations are the ones that truly engage you?

The most powerful thing a speaker can do is not to make people say, “oh wow, I didn’t know that!” The most powerful thing a speaker can do is to make people say, “oh wow, I thought I was the only one who thought/needed/feared that.”

Every time you make a statement or tell a story, ask yourself if there is a question you can ask or a statement you can make that will turn the statement or story into something more universal that people can connect with.

If you’re telling a story of a heated exchange you had with a co-worker that you’re ashamed of, could you add in “have you ever lost your head at work in a way you weren’t proud of?”

That simple sentence will get the audience nodding, as they connect to an experience in their mind to which they can then apply whatever strategy or idea you provide next.

The fact is, every interaction is a presentation, and all of the tips above can be used when you stride onto a stage in front of hundreds, or you’re striving to more effectively engage someone one-on-one.

The key is to consistently practice, and figure out how to make each tip work for your particular style.

Happy presenting!

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Drew Dudley
Drew is the Founder and Chief Catalyst of Nuance Leadership, Inc., and the former Coordinator of one of Canada’s largest leadership development programs at the University of Toronto.