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Succinct Skills In Public Speaking

Apr 25, 2008
We've all heard that less is more, but not when applied to the frenetic, fact-filled culture of today. Today we are constantly bombarded with information, junk, information, junk information. There's little "free space" left - with advertising embedded on the shopping cart, popping up on the computer screen, scrolling across the TV, you name it. Feeling like there's barely any space left in our minds, overburdened with unwanted information, we might feel like screaming, but it's easier and less noticeable to flip the "off" switch. Not take in any more. So working with today's overburdened minds, how do you get an audience to turn on the "on" switch and get your own "very important" message across?

"In an ancient Chinese legend, the emperor offers a reward to the man who has just invented the game of chess. The inventor modestly asks for one grain of rice on the chessboard's first square, two grains on the next square, four grains on the third, and so on, doubling every square. The emperor, thinking this is a swell bargain, grants his request - only to realize later that the sixty-fourth square would have enough grains of rice to cover the entire earth. He angrily orders the inventor beheaded." (Business 2.0, July 2001)

Like the Chinese rice, the amount of data which assaults a person's mind, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, is more than one mind even begins to need. According to research from the University of California at Berkeley, the amount of digital information produced in the world today is doubling as often as every two years. Since information is so quickly multiplying, when you give a presentation, it's more important than ever to deliver a lot more than facts and data to your audience.

In Samurai Selling: the Ancient Art of Service in Sales, the authors tell of research which indicates that people tend to ignore all data (yes, ALL) when given more than they can process. Recently, neuroscientists tested people for the effects of information overload and found these symptoms.

1) Irritation
2) Boredom
3) Inability to take decisive action
4) Pervading sense of "So what?"
5) Failure to respond

Don't you desperately want to avoid any one of those five symptoms occurring in your audience? So make your presentation on target, but also succinct. For that, you need to create a central thesis. Just like writing a college paper: What are you trying to say? Make your message clear so that no one will drift off, imagining the run they missed that morning or wondering how much more interesting the next speaker will be.

Here's an example of succinctness to the extreme. In the annual Webby awards, given for achievement in Web creation, the recipients are allowed only five words with which to make their acceptance speech. At one of the recent award ceremonies, having listened to countless abbreviated thank yous, the audience waited for Al Gore, wondering about his response to his lifetime achievement award. He did not disappoint.

"Please don't recount this vote," he said. The message was clear......

Fortunately you'll be working with more than five words.

An effective presentation is a well-organized presentation. For your presentation, organize it by using the classic art of rhetoric -- the art of persuasion -- and its three main forms: logos (logic and reason), ethos (the character of the speaker) and pathos (emotion). Be sure you understand what your message is, then apply that understanding to a structure, even an outline, if that works for you. To give your presentation a hard and sharp edge like an arrow, write down each section with this thought in mind: What is my point and how does this idea support it? You need to know your message yourself, inside and out, before you can motivate others and sway them toward what you want them to take away from your presentation.

Introduce your main point, then keep the audience's attention. A good story is one very effective way to do it, at all times keeping your mind on the message. Studies show that presenters have the greatest mind share of their audience when they make a point by weaving it into a personal story. That way, the audience doesn't need to remember the details to remember the message. The audience can keep the message and toss out the details that kept them listening.

Succintness is power. Write your speech, then cut, edit, cut some more. Express much in few words. Win your audience. Make your point.
About the Author
The Henderson Group trains and coaches business professionals in the art of communication and presentation through our experiential methodology. Since 1990, The Henderson Group has helped Fortune 500 companies worldwide improve employee productivity and business results through the development of communication skills. You can find us online at SpeakFearlessly.net and HendersonGroup.com or Attend A Workshop
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