If you want to help your audience listen better to you, help them understand why they’re listening to you. As quickly as possible, get to the point, by telling the audience one or all of the following:
- The long-term purpose of your presentation. “I’m speaking today so we can help increase revenue for this division, by implementing Project ABC.”
- The short-term objective of today’s discussion. “My task during the next 60 minutes is to give you the rationale why Project ABC is better than the alternatives, and to answer your questions about the service, roll-out and budget.”
- The explicit action you want the audience to do (or less so, to consider) at the end of your allotted time. “At the end of our meeting, I want your approval of Project ABC so we can begin implementation.”
By placing the objective at the beginning, it’s crystal clear to the audience and in turn makes it easier to listen. Having only the destination of the presentation is not enough: the audience also needs to have the landmarks to listen for until you finish your presentation. Both attributes will improve how much your audience remembers.
In my workshops, nearly three-quarters of the participants believe they should put the key messages at the end of the presentation, as if it was the moral of the story. Unless your presentation is one giant story (and most business presentations are not), it’s too much time to wait. If a presentation is 45 minutes, your audience sits for nearly 35 minutes unclear what’s going on. Put yourself into those shoes. How long would you sit and listen if you were either unclear or confused about the purpose of the presentation? On average, my workshop attendees say they’d give the speaker no more than 3-4 minutes before they tuned out … or worse, began to make decisions about the speaker’s credibility.
Whatever your over-arching message, the statement should come out of your mouth as naturally and genuinely as soon as possible. It should be explicit and concise. You say it aloud, and it should be reflected on the screen or in the hand-outs. If there’s no physical presentation involved, the purpose-objective-action should be in the opening paragraph, the executive summary or situation analysis at the top of the document.
You should also speak from the audience’s point of view, not yours The only way to make a topic relevant is to tell the audience what’s in it for them. Think of a personal example. When you met the person you knew you’d spend the rest of your life, did you talk about yourself? Or, did you talk about them? The same principle is true between speaker and audience. Always talk about their favourite subject: them.
But, be careful of being too overt.
A workshop participant once said the point of his speech was to get the audience to buy his company’s life insurance. “If I stated my objective – to get them to buy insurance – I’d sound bold and crass. My audience won’t listen to a sales pitch.”
I agree 100%. But, his stated objective – to get the audience to buy his product – is about him. It’s not about the audience. How could he say it in a way more relevant to the audience?
We worked on it for a bit, and he finally came up with this new introduction. “I’m speaking today to make sure each of you has adequate life insurance cover. As someone who’s been working in life insurance for the past 15 years, I want to give you my opinion of life insurance, some facts about what most people need, and some tips so you know if you have the right amount of coverage. By the end of the presentation, if you have any questions, thoughts or concerns about your own policies, I hope to either answer those questions here tonight, or I can schedule time with you to review your policies privately.”
See? The same objective is reached, but the true point is clear, concise and transparent at the beginning of the presentation. Who wouldn’t listen now?
How else have you woven into your presentation your key objective or outcome? Please leave your comments below.