What’s your number one goal in presenting? Perhaps it’s boosting sales, clinching that big client, recruiting financial support, or explaining a new policy. For nearly every kind of speech, there’s a concept that is woven into the heart of all communication, understanding.
From the moment you start preparing your presentation until the moment that you step off the stage, your primary goal should be to create greater understanding. Let’s concentrate on three specific threads of understanding that you can weave together to create a strong presentation.
Understand the Speaker
The first thread of understanding you need to spin aims to help the audience understand why you are credible and passionate about the topic. But this isn’t something you tell them. It’s something you show them. Passion is contagious. It’s easy to see when a speaker cares about his topic, and the reverse is also true. But how exactly do you show the audience that you care? The audience understands your knowledge and passion when you deliver with professionalism and passion. Professionalism means you have done your homework and can back up your claims with solid research. Passion means you have expression in your face and voice. According to Richard Dowis’s book The Lost Art of the Great Speech, “a person is capable of twenty thousand distinct gestures, each of which has its own meaning. This vocabulary, if we can be justified in calling it that, dwarfs the working vocabulary of the typical English-speaking person.” That means the way you use your body, face, and voice often has more to say about how you feel that even your words. So you should make use of this “vocabulary” to help the audience understand your passion.
Understand the Message
To help the audience clearly understand the message, you have to be thoughtful about the way you arrange information. One popular method for information organization is called “chunking.” The concept of chunking is attributed to George A. Miller’s Harvard University research which determined that humans can handle about 7 “chunks” of new information at a time. Miller discovered that communicators need to break information down into manageable pieces or bits. Once you know what chunks you need to communicate, arrange those into a logical order by establishing what the audience needs to know first. Create a foundation of knowledge by starting either with what is easiest to understand or with what is most familiar to the audience, and then build on the information from there. Make sure to include what I call a “handle” for each chunk of new information. A handle can be an example, a story, or a metaphor that helps illuminate the concept. To sum up, you should divide the information, arrange it logically, and then support it with examples and stories to help the audience arrive at understanding.
Understand the Application
Those of us who talk about public speaking have many different names for this that usually come in the form of questions posed to the audience. What’s in it for you? How does it apply to your life? So what? Why should you care? Why does this matter? In his book, TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, Chris Anderson defines understanding like this. He says it’s the “upgrading of a worldview to better reflect reality.” When you view understanding this way, it leads to three questions. First, have you created a message that meets this definition? If not, you probably need some revision of your content. Second, do you understand what your audience knows and what their needs are? If you don’t understand your audience, you can’t possibly hope to create an effective message for them. Third, can you clearly communicate to your audience how your message upgrades their world view or perception of reality? By answering these questions, you’ll create better content that is more relevant to your audience. And remember, telling the audience how your message applies to them isn’t something you do once, checking it off your list and moving on. You need to weave the threads of application all throughout your speech, in the examples you use, in the stories you tell, and in the words you choose.
When you make understanding the thread by which everything in your presentation ties together, you’ve set yourself up for success. Once you’ve established understanding, you’ll find it is much easier to accomplish the other, more specific, goals you have for each message, like boosting sales or clinching that dream client.
We’d love to continue the conversation with you about what makes a presentation great and how to get results every time you speak. To learn more now, check out our all-new, online presentation skills course.