My father was a tyrannical professor of medicine who seemed to relish humiliating his students – especially while making rounds in the hospital. The residents would hide behind each other to avoid being singled out to answer his impromptu questions. And sure enough, one fated day, Charlie, a first year, came to rounds with little sleep and even less preparation. Needless to say, my Dad nailed him. Charlie mumbled some feeble response knowing he was in for it and with laser focus, my Dad said, “You know, you should read more.” So, Charlie, hell-bent on redeeming himself, studied like a maniac and came to rounds the next time with the cockiness of an over-prepared medical genius. And this time, fortune smiled. My Dad called on him and Charlie, resolute and beyond ready, launched into an almost poetic diatribe replete with every bit of medical minutiae he could muster. “Sheer brilliance”, Charlie thought smugly to himself. My dad paused, stared right at him and said, “Next time, don’t read so much.”
Ok, so you’ve got the floor, you’re prepared as all get out – what’s missing? A few essentials:
1. Define your audience and what THEY want and need to know. I know, we’ve all heard this before but think of it this way. When YOU’RE in the audience what holds YOUR attention? It’s not enough to be prepared and informed. You have to put yourself in their shoes and really imagine what matters to them. Then tailor your words to THAT. Oh, and don’t forget to add the spices. (We’ll get back to that.)
2. Build a framework. Most great books, films, plays etc. have a beginning, middle and an end. And a point (or two). Your speech or writing really needs this. If you were to have a SUPER-OBJECTIVE what would that be? Write this out for yourself FIRST. Why are you telling this? What is the main purpose of this particular communication? And then, give it a TITLE! Brand it, so you can readily conjure its meaning. You’d be amazed how this can clarify the task at hand. Then, with your beginning-middle-end structure in place, create your “subset” talking points. In other words, how will you illustrate each segment? This leads to the proverbial packing of the suitcase:
3. Furnish the structure. This is where you get to be creative. There are myriad ways to illustrate and reinforce a talking point. Here are those spices:
- ASK QUESTIONS!!! (The best way to engage an audience is to start a dialogue! Oh, and by the way, questions are a GREAT way to cool your nerves.)
- Tell a great SHORT story – every great speaker is a great storyteller. Bar none.
- Use great visuals – we remember better visually, anyway. Case in point: think of any great advertising campaign.
- Include a clever, insightful quotation – a smart chuckle works like gangbusters to make a point.
- Be imaginative with your use of data or statistics – surprise us with some unique, memorable facts!
- Add some Universal Humor - NO joke telling! You run the risk of offending. Just simply illustrate the specific ways we all can laugh at life.
- Give colorful examples from your own experience – concepts have a way of requiring additional explanation with a frame of reference.
- Put YOURSELF into the content – I mean this. It has to have YOU all over it or it will come across as inauthentic. Trust me, an audience can smell a phony a mile away.
4. Choose your medium. Is this communication a video, a PowerPoint (or PREZI, which I find more captivating), a Skype or teleconference, a teleseminar, a webinar, a keynote or a meeting, etc? Each one has specific time parameters, styles, guidelines and audiences. So do your due diligence and ferret out the specs before you jump in. There is a big difference between filling up a large auditorium and speaking into a camera.Be sure you time yourself and PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE until you’ve got it down well enough to come “off the page” and make it your own. The bathroom mirror is a good start. But after that, try it out on someone OTHER than yourself. A word of caution, kids are a tough crowd. Use bullet points or notes only if you’re really familiar with them. Otherwise they become a bad crutch. Make those notes a mere reference so you can soar with your material.
5. Get fired up! I’m not kidding. We’ve just witnessed what can happen in a national debate when someone isn’t raring to go. It can cost you. You may know from whence you speak but if there’s no PRESENCE, as in ENTHUSIASM, PASSION and CONFIDENCE, you lose us. Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard Business School talks about the “Power Pose”. She says that for two minutes before you have give any important communication, sit or stand in a position that makes you feel powerful and open to energy coming in. Now this doesn’t mean you strike the Wonder Woman pose on the podium, but rather, find a quiet, private space before you start. Think about it, if your body is curled up somewhere checking your text messages, you are shutting down and not allowing yourself to raise your testosterone levels (power) and lower your cortisol (stress). Tiny tweaks like this can lead to big changes in your delivery. Finally, fake it ‘til you become it. If nerves and self-doubt are keeping you from owning it, just keep going. Our bodies change our minds, our minds change our behavior and our behavior changes our impact.
Oh, and by the way, Charlie, the redeemed medical resident, is my Mom’s cardiologist.
Wendy Scharfman is a professional speaker, communication coach and trainer. She is the Owner and Founder of Coaching for Effective Communication, a business she created to help her clients develop powerful communication strategies that create real results. She is the Communications Consultant at Family Intervention Services, a New Jersey non-profit, and an adjunct faculty member at the SUNY/Levin Institute where she teaches entrepreneurial business. Wendy specializes in Executive Coaching, Leadership Training and Team Building, Public Speaking Competencies, Message Refinement and Media Training. www.wendyscharfman.com