What’s more important in preparing for your big presentation: what you say or how you say it?
Ask the audience who first cheered for Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent 2009. Her stellar performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” wasn’t a fresh debut of a new song. No, this popular Les Miserables tune was nearly 30 years old. Chances are most people in the audience had heard it before.
Did she change the words to mesmerize her audience? Or arrange the music differently for her performance? Was there a marvelous orchestra behind her that got everyone excited? No, no, and no.
Was it how she looked that caused the audience to pay such rapt attention? Susan was middle-aged with “contestant #432” attached to her necklace, a little bit of a mustache, and big bushy eyebrows. When Simon Cowell learned she was 47 years old, he raised his eyebrows and glanced at his fellow judge as if to say, “Oh no, please don’t make me sit through another old biddy who sings in a church choir.”
Was it what she sang that caused Simon’s eyebrows to rise, a grin disrupting his countenance from ear to ear? That moved the audience to rise to their feet, applauding as they looked incredulously at each other? If you’ve seen the video on YouTube, you know the answer.
Susan Boyle’s “I Dreamed a Dream” produced 208 million views because of how she sang it.
So how can you bring your audience to its feet?
It’s simple but not easy. The key is to carefully choose what you say, and then practice, practice, practice how you will say it.
What should you say? Start by abandoning your trusty, rusty slide deck full of generic, boring gobbledygook. Instead, follow these 9 steps to generate the content that will help you capture and maintain your listeners’ attention:
1. Determine who your listeners will be and identify your idea or recommendation to them. What do you know about your listeners?
2. Articulate what you want your listeners to do when you finish your presentation and how soon.
3. Think through the needs that will be fulfilled when they apply your idea or recommendation. When real needs are met, emotions follow. Identify which of the six core motivators drives your listener the most: aesthetic, traditional, theoretical, social, leadership, or return on investment.
4. Write down the personal benefits that will accrue when listeners say yes to your offer. What will happen in their lives? To their families? To others around them? In their businesses? With their employees? Write down everything that comes to mind.
5. Looking at your above benefits, ask, “What do you think will be the strongest benefit your listeners will receive?” Make this the first sentence that you speak: “I’m here tonight to deliver this benefit to you.”
6. Piece together your opening: #1 benefit, the need that will be fulfilled, your recommendation, and the additional benefits that will flow. This should take you just 30–60 seconds.
7. What objections will your listeners have that will cause them to say no to your idea or recommendation? Work through the logical answers to each of them and incorporate your best answers into your presentation.
8. End by restating the opening need. Add it to your original recommendation and restate the opening benefit.
9. Ask for questions. When you have answered every one, ask your audience to take the action you originally intended.
You have just organized a presentation that is not about you, your firm, or your products or services. Why? Because none of those matter to your listeners until they understand the benefits they will receive from working with you.
Beyond the content, your delivery of your message is what will make you truly memorable. How can you belt out your presentation in a way that gets the same kind of audience response as Susan? Control the controllable. Remove all distractions to their ability to listen and fully consider your idea or recommendation. Here’s how . . .
First, remove all distractions to their eyes:
- Harness your energy. Nervousness occurs because adrenaline is flowing through your body. You can burn away this energy when you . . .
- Project energy and enthusiasm! What if acting enthusiastically doesn’t feel right to you? Tough! It doesn’t matter how you feel. What matters is how you make them No energy from you means no action from them.
- Smile as often as appropriate. When you smile, your listener will smile, and positive emotions will follow.
- Make eye contact with as many people as you can. Hold it for 2–3 seconds and then move to a different pair of eyeballs.
- Pace with a purpose. Use a wireless microphone so you can walk and talk freely and with confidence.
- Use bigger gestures than normal. Let them flow naturally from the images flowing through your brain. This will help your ideas come across through your gestures.
- Dress conservatively. Their attention should be on you and your message, not on your clothing or how you are wearing it.
Next, eliminate all distractions to their ears:
- Vary your speaking pace and intonation so you sound genuine and relatable.
- Rid your language of non-words, those ahs, ums, likes, you knows, etc. These words litter your talk like mosquitos at sunset. Omit any word that fails to add value to your listeners.
- Talk with your listeners as you would with your next-door neighbor, your best friend, or the family pet. Dispense with “presentation voice” that sounds like you have memorized every word.
- Slow your voice down and pause in meaningful ways. Remember that silence is golden.
Finally, a formula for you to follow:
Confidence + Control = Credibility
You are the message, not your PowerPoint slides or slick videos. When you make good eye contact, eliminate non-words, smile, pace with a purpose, and exude energy and enthusiasm, your confidence generates the positive emotion in your listeners that will entice them to fully consider your idea.
When you slow yourself down, vary your speaking volume, and handle questions like a pro, your listeners will sense you are in control.
And when you combine confidence and control, you improve your credibility. Your listeners will embrace your idea and act on it as if it was their own idea in the first place.
And last, practice, practice, practice. It doesn’t make you perfect, but it will make you better.
Before she sang, Simon asked Susan Boyle, “What’s the dream?” To which she said, “To become a professional singer.” To that, he asked, “So why hasn’t that worked out for you thus far?” She said, “I haven’t been given the chance before, and here’s hoping that will change!”
Susan Boyle proved to Simon Cowell and millions of YouTube viewers that practice, practice, practice is what makes us great. So let this be your constant refrain: “Make your next presentation the best one you have ever delivered.”