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Presentation Skills - Organization is Key Part II

Jul 29, 2008
Opening with a "Bang"

You've got at most 30 seconds to give your audience a compelling reason to sit up and listen to what you've got to say, or you've lost them to their Blackberries or Suduko. Now that they're listening, you've got to structure what you're going to say in a way that makes for the easiest possible path for them to follow.

Problem or Opportunity

The "grabber" introduces the problem that needs to be solved or the opportunity that needs to taken advantage of. Make sure that the problem/opportunity is one that everyone can relate to and that it is expressed in a way that everyone can understand.

Think in terms of headlines when developing your problem/opportunity. What would the headline of your speech be? Don't get too verbose or wordy when considering your opening problem/opportunity. An information data dump will serve to confuse your audience and call your credibility into question.

Sometimes presenting a problem connected to the consequences of no action can be powerful as well.

Solution / Recommendation

Next, you'll want to present your solution or recommendation. This is where our outline differs from the typical structure we see in most business presentations. To ensure that your audience gets the most impact from your evidence, and to start the buy-in process as soon as possible, you must begin at the end. In other words, you need to show them exactly where you're going to end up before you start the journey.

When your audience knows your conclusion up front, they are able to put your evidence in context; what you want them to say to themselves whenever you introduce new evidence is, "Gee, I didn't know that. But given that, your conclusion makes a lot of sense!" Otherwise, without a framework into which to put the facts you so brilliantly spew forth, it's more like, "Gee, I didn't know that. Hmmm, I didn't know that, either. I wonder where he's going with all this..."

Context is everything!

And although there are times in business where you must take a hard-line, direct approach, people like to come to conclusions on their own. By beginning at the end, you make it easier for people to convince themselves of the wisdom of your plan.

Be confident and enthusiastic about your recommendation. This is the main event. You've set it up nicely with your "grabber" and presented it as a problem or opportunity. Here's your chance to share your wonderful idea. Passion counts.

Next up, you'll want to deliver evidence that unambiguously supports your solution or recommendation. It's often tempting to throw in facts or charts or other material that is related to your conclusion, but understand that anything you offer up that doesn't directly aid their seeing a clear path to your destination will only work to counteract the impact of your really important evidence.

Nice-to-know information is good for filling time, but it more often dilutes the value and force of your need-to-know information, which is the only thing that you should ask your audience to attempt to retain.

Don't forget that finishing under your time limit is always preferable to going over. You never hear people say upon leaving a presentation, "That was great! I only wish he would have droned on another 20 minutes!"
About the Author
J. Douglas Jefferys is a principal at PublicSpeakingSkills.com, an international consulting firm specializing in training businesses of all sizes to communicate for maximum efficiency. The firm spreads its unique knowledge through on-site classes, public seminars, and high-impact videos, and can be reached through the Internet or at 888-663-7711.
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