The Importance of Your Material
In the last blog post – How to Deliver a Memorable Presentation – you learned about the importance of life force in your speech. That is the energy, enthusiasm and passion you bring to the platform. Once you have life force, it’s time to look at the 2nd part of your presentation, the Material.
The material consists of your main message and the structure of your presentation.
The main message
Think of the main message as the engine that pushes your speech down the road to its ultimate conclusion.
A common problem for speakers is that they don’t understand the main point they want to give their audience. They have difficulty narrowing their speeches to a clear message. As a result, audience members walk away confused.
As you write your presentation, ask yourself the following questions:
What is my core idea?
Do my stories, statistics, or quotes support that idea?
At any point in the speech, is the audience being taken off track from my main message?
How to Know If Your Message is Clear
Ask your audience. Take a poll after your presentation. Ask each audience member to write down, in one sentence, what s/he believes your main point is. If they are consistent in their responses, you’re on track. If you get multiple answers, go back and refine your core point.
The structure of your speech – the Open, Body and Conclusion – supports your main point. It moves the presentation forward.
The opening should orient the audience to what they’re about to hear. Although there are many types of openings, the five most commonly used are
1) a question
2) a quote
3) a statistic
4) a startling statement
5) a story
Use one of these to immediately pull the audience into your world. For example, if you want to introduce the impact of an aging population on our retirement system, you could open with “Did you know that you may live more years in retirement than you do in your main job?” That line has caught the attention of many audiences to which I’ve spoken.
Once you’ve opened your speech, and introduced the main message, the body of the presentation should support that message. Use stories, activities, or statistics. Be sure that each of these is relevant to the main point.
For instance, if you want to stress the financial impact of our changing retirement system, tell relevant stories about retirees. Share the experiences of people who have invested wisely or supplemented their income with part-time work. These support your main point.
Stories about charitable work or time spent with their grandchildren would not. These experiences could cause the audience to start thinking about non-financial aspects of retirement. That is not your main point.
Once you’ve gotten through the body of the speech, you’re ready for the conclusion. This is the part of the presentation where many good speeches fall apart. Hall-of-fame speaker Patricia Fripp says that “last words linger.” The two main reasons speakers fail at the conclusion is:
1) They stop abruptly, or,
2)They introduce new ideas when they should be wrapping up their main point and getting off stage.
In his “I Have A Dream” speech, imagine if Dr. King had said “I dream of the day when all God’s children will play together…..Thank you.” Although that is a strong vision, that vision is made more powerful by his stirring conclusion of “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last!!”
Or, how much less powerful would his message have been if at the conclusion, he had said “….thank God Almighty we are free at last…. And another thing, we need to get out of Vietnam!”
Even if you agreed with this sentiment, those last words would have taken away from his main message about equality. Remember that your conclusion is the last communication you have with your audience. Make sure it summarizes your speech and is memorable.
Tie It All Together
Craft a speech around a strong foundational message, supporting material which ‘sells’ that point, an attention-grabbing opening and a conclusion that summarizes your message. You’ll be on the road to creating a lasting impression, and making a difference in the lives of your audience.
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