One Question Will Take You from Boring to Amazing
Do you want to give a boring presentation?
Of course not. As a presenter you do not want to be boring. In fact, you spend a great deal of time and energy feeling nervous and scared about the possibility that you may bore an audience. Yet, despite all this effort, you and I know the feeling of preparing what we are sure is an incredible presentation and then watching the eyes of our audience glaze over as they quickly lose interest in what we are saying.
What can we do about this? How can we avoid being the speaker everyone pretends to listen to as they catch up on email?
When we prepare a presentation we ask ourselves two important questions, but there is a third question we often ignore which is critical to avoiding a snoozer of a speech.
Presentation preparation often begins by asking . . .
What am I going to say?
This is a question of CONTENT and it is a crucial question to answer. The challenge here is that whether you determine the content yourself or have your topic given to you by your boss, you can have amazing content and still deliver a boring presentation (remember all those boring lectures from brilliant professors?).
Amazing content is important, but does not guarantee an amazing presentation.
After determining content preparation continues by asking . . .
How am I going to say it?
This is a question of CONSTRUCTION. Here you determine how you will organize all your amazing content (i.e. will you have two points or three?).
This too is an important question that deserves further exploration, yet it does not solve the boredom conundrum.
The content and construction questions should not be ignored by any speaker who desires to create an engaging presentation, but there is more work to do! There is a third question very few presenters ask and it is the question that has the power to turn a lackluster speech into a dynamic experience.
The question is this . . .
Why should the audience listen?
This is a question of CONNECTION, and this is the question that often is ignored much to the detriment of the presenter.
This question rightly takes the focus off of the speaker and her ideas and puts it on the listeners with whom the speaker must engage.
In order to be compelling a speaker must find a way to bridge the gap between the audience and the content. It is not the job of the audience to figure out how the content applies to them, it is the job of the presenter to help the audience feel the need they have for what is being presented.
I am not advocating here changing content to fit an audience (sometimes our boss gives us the content and there’s nothing we can do about it), this is about learning to put yourself in the shoes of the audience and to connect an audience to the content you bring.
At the 1997 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference Steve Jobs was challenged during a question and answer session by a developer upset that Jobs did not utilize a certain technology. Jobs’ answer is pure gold for those looking to increase their effectiveness as a public speaker.
“You’ve got to start at the customer experience and work back to the technology; you can’t start with the technology and figure out where you are going to sell it.” – Steve Jobs
Spoiler alert – Steve Jobs’ philosophy of starting with the customer worked.
This same principle holds true for the information you are presenting to your audience. The great presenter does not start with their content and then construct a presentation towards an audience, rather, they start with the audience and work back to the content. This is the key to avoiding that sickening moment where you can no longer make eye contact with your audience because they are looking down at their phones, up at the ceiling, or worse yet have their eyes closed.
In response to this principle a student in one of my University courses adeptly wrote, “most speakers stand at point B calling to the audience at point A to come and join them. The great speaker walks to point A, turns around and invites the audience to follow them back to point B.”
So, the next time it is your turn to speak, think about the people to whom you will speak. What are they like? Why are they listening to you? What challenges do they face with which you can help? What problem can you solve for them? How does your content impact their life? What do you want them to do? How can you dispel any resistance they may have to you or your content?
Connect with the audience first where they are, then construct your presentation so you guide the audience back to your content. Master this process and you will always be captivating.