I was recently helping a client organize a presentation she wanted to give to a group of business owners for a lunch ‘n’ learn type of event. Let’s call her Sylvia. Throughout the time Sylvia and I worked on her presentation, I kept emphasizing two points that, if she took to heart, would result in a much more effective and compelling presentation:
#1: Make the content revolve around them
#2: But don’t forget to make it your own
It’s ALWAYS about the audience
Sylvia, a professional organizer, came to prepare for her presentation as many of us do. A professional connection approached her and said, “Hey, why don’t you come talk to our group about what you do?” And most of us (putting aside for the moment any fears we may have about public speaking) would probably react just as Sylvia did: “Yes, that sounds great!” And why not, right? We think to ourselves: I’m good at what I do; I love what I do; and now someone just wants me to talk about it. How could this possibly go badly?
Well, it could go badly in many ways, actually… But in particular, it could go badly if you end up talking to your audience about things that you may find interesting but have very little to do with them. In Sylvia’s case it’s not enough to think, hey, THEY asked ME to speak about organizing, so I have carte blanche to talk about organizing in any way I like, and I’m sure everyone will take away something that relates to them. That’s wishful thinking and a risky strategy.
I encouraged Sylvia to construct her talk so that at any point during her talk, if someone in the audience were to hypothetically interrupt her and ask why she’s sharing whatever she’s sharing in that moment, she could confidently say: I’m telling you this because I think you could benefit in XYZ way.
The point is not that you should prepare for someone actually asking you to justify why you’re speaking—because they won’t! If the audience isn’t clear why you’re speaking, they’ll simply drop out, start looking at their smartphones, and wonder what’s next on their schedule. You don’t want that, so make sure you know what value you’d expect your audience to take away from every aspect of your presentation. Even though you’re the one presenting, your presentation is kind of all about them.
In a different way, it’s also about you
Although certainly the content of your presentation, and even how you frame it, should absolutely revolve around your audience, keep in mind that people in that audience want to hear from YOU—the human being who is you. You’re not a faceless, mechanical provider of information to them. People want to get to know you and like you. And they want to experience you as comfortable in your own skin when you’re presenting, if for no other reason, so that THEY can feel comfortable while they listen to you.
So how can you get more comfortable? Well, certainly you can think about all the usual best practices of presenting having to do with speech and body language—they work well. But I’d like to talk about how organizing content in the way that best suits you can also make you feel comfortable.
One of Sylvia’s challenges involved choosing what to focus on in her presentation. There are so many aspects of organizing that she could’ve chosen to speak about… What’s the best way to decide on content, and then what’s the best way to structure it?
We started working on possibilities by trying to answer the question: What would this particular audience find interesting? And how could she organize her content into nuggets of information that her audience would remember and, therefore, find useful later on? We looked for tips she could provide with catchy words in them. At one point, I suggested that she kick off the presentation by laying out “3 Universal Principles of Organizing” that she could then apply to a number of situations that she’d address throughout her talk.
Sylvia was feeling overwhelmed with trying to narrow things down, but more importantly, the structure we’d come up with just wasn’t clicking for her. I advised her to let things sit for a few days, and I encouraged her to follow her instincts about what she thought would work best for her. After all, just because we did some good work brainstorming a potential strategy doesn’t mean she now needed to execute it blindly—especially if she “wasn’t feeling it.”
The next time we got together, Sylvia said to me, “I got it! I know what’ll work a lot better for me.” And there it was: she’d come up with a way to structure her talk into “10 Do’s and Don’ts” to which she’d apply some of those principle we’d discussed the last time. That new way of approaching the subject allowed her to visualize herself successfully and joyfully interacting with her audience, providing them with the value she wanted to provide.
Had Sylvia not found a way to make the content her own and allow it to fit her style and her personality, she’d still be “fighting with it,” and what’s worse, her audience would sense her discomfort in a second.
As you prepare to deliver your next presentation, think about it both from the perspective of your audience and from your own. Yes, you need to make it “all about them,” but what choices could you make in structuring your content that would help you show up in the authentic, vibrant way that you know you can? Knock ’em dead!
Guillermo Villar is principal coach with Cambio Coaching. He helps high-achieving individuals and teams communicate with intention to get the business results they want. If you’re interested in working with Guillermo, sign up for a free meeting to explore how he can help.