“Our words have wings but fly not where we would.” –George Eliot
I once read that the average person speaks almost 20,000 words a day…20,000 words! How many of those words do we waste not staying on point and blurring focus to our message? In business, it is through our words that our ideas grow, people feel valued, and we align our organizations to move forward. As leaders, powerful use of our words is a core competency must be mastered. In business, where ‘inspiring commitment’ has been identified as one of the top five skills that needs to be cultivate among the leadership ranks and is projected to be the number one needed skill for future leaders, we need to ensure that every word reinforces our central message.
Stay On the Path. While your message may be told with artistic plot twists and surprises, supreme attention should be paid to eliminating ‘rabbit holes’. Rabbit holes are purposeless deviations from your central theme and rob your presentation from a sense of a guided journey. Have you ever sat through a speech when the speaker seemed to go on about everything the topic offered, and the speech went nowhere? The presenter never took a stance or had a strong take away message, but rather recounted all the information they possessed about the topic! Conventional wisdom says to make sure this doesn’t happen to you, that you should START crafting your presentation with the CONCLUSION in mind. This works for some and not for others. If it works for you, us it! For me, I start writing a speech by asking myself, ‘What is the one thing I need the audience to take away from my presentation a week or two after my speech is over?’ That one thing is my central theme or message. The stronger your sense of message, the easier it will be to write with intention and eliminate taking your audience into rabbit holes.
How many points can you make in one presentation? Toastmasters will tell you three points per speech. I have also heard you can only make one point per ten minutes of speaking time. In my experience there is no hard and fast rule. In my experience 1,2,3, or 5 points a speech seem to be most effective for me. Odd numbers are preferable in most communication written or spoken word. The general exception to this rule is the number two. We as humans love two whether in opposition or concert. Any more than five points is too much for audiences (and presenters) to keep track of. This is unless the presentation points are in list form such as a ‘Top Ten…’ How many points you will ultimately be determined by what you have to say, the format of your presentation, and the time you have to develop your points.
Every story has five main elements: location, characters, problem, heightening of the problem, and resolution. The resolution is absolutely necessary! You can take your audience anywhere with your stories. That’s right, no topic is forbidden, but what is unforgiveable is taking your audience to a deep place and leaving them there. Have you ever been a victim of a speaker that at the end of their presentation you just feel sorry for them? Their story challenged their credibility, instead of being inspirational. Likely they failed to develop their resolution and never reached a point of re-emergence. Good news, as long as you guide your audience out the other side, you can take your audience anywhere that is required to hit your central theme. This knowledge should allow you to craft business presentations that touch audiences with a degree of authenticity unparalleled by your competition.
Shawna Beese-Bjurstrom, RN, MBA lives in Spokane, WA with her family where she is a Healthcare Executive and Business Developer. She writes on issues such as strategy, operational excellence, communication, and leadership, read her blog.