I’ve had the incredible privilege of speaking to audiences large and small on every habitable continent. My last keynote in Brazil drew 8,000 spectators to a space so massive, I couldn’t see its end from the stage!
These engagements are invariably scary. It is always with a blend of nervousness and confidence that I take the stage. Those 8,000 attendees invested a lot in the event, and I was the opening keynote, thus setting the tone for the next few days. It is intense pressure, I am a little freaked out.
To ensure confidence _ outweighs nervousness_, I’ve always worked hard on the stories I want to share, hyper-customizing them for each unique audience. I personally craft every visual, and every thought is original. Such thorough preparation provides subconscious assurance that it will go great.
Having experimented with new techniques and tweaked my approach over hundreds of speaking engagements, I’ve established a set of rules for effective storytelling on-state.
The rules are universally applicable and widely versatile, so I thought I would share them with you to aid your persuasive storytellin
Five strategic recommendations.
1. Don’t tell people what they already know.
Many speakers will occupy 20 – 40 percent of their time simply restating obvious facts and commonly known industry stats, pimping their company, and so on and so forth.
You open a presentation with 14 minutes on the importance of tags or digital’s growth or why measurement is critical, and you’ve lost the audience before anything of value comes out of your mouth.
Why do speakers so often do this? Most commonly “I want to bring everyone in the audience along with me, ensure we are all on the same page.”
The only outcome this approach ensures is failure.
Twenty percent of any audience will be new to the space or in the wrong room. They can benefit from your obvious facts. The problem is, you’ve lost the remaining 80% , the ones that matter, who will actually take action from your insights. Focus on that 80%, skip the obvious facts, and get to the meat as fast as you can.
Your job is not to inform; your job is to inspire action.
2. Speak only about what you really know.
Some presentations call for presenting thought leadership. Others require you to drag yourself into one more conference room to speak for the 90th time about cloud services or printer toner.
Regardless of the situation, only discuss what you really know.
People can smell fraud a mile away. They might not walk out when you start presenting someone else’s work, but, you’ve certainly lost them. They are on their phones swiping left or right on Tinder.
And your audience knows when your presentation has been created by a team of underlings. Your conspicuously shallow knowledge reveeals witn the work is not your own.
If you really know everything about printer toner, you’ll appear confident, excited and passionate as you pitch your idea or inspire an action. These characteristics will make you a persuasive and memorable speaker.
Remember: If you are bored with your presentation, so is the audience.
3. Tell complete stories with the Care-Do-Impact storytelling framework.
The most compelling short stories clearly answer three questions:
Why should you care?
What should you do?
What’s the business impact if you do the do? :)
Most speakers get in front of an audience and tell them what to do. Usually this is sourced in something their company is selling. They give you the full sales pitch, masked with pseudo-inspiration, then wait for the money to fall from the sky.
Before you tell people what to do, prove your empathy and expertise by demonstrating why they should care. Define the problem. Ideally, quantify the scale of the pain and opportunity. This drives them to lean in and understand that you’ve spent time understanding their unique problems within their specific industry.
When you offer actionable direction, be specific. Implement x tags with y parameters in z time frame. In Wisconsin and Florida focus on ages aa and bb to achieve outcomes mm and kk.
Then, create a sense of urgency with the business impact. This can be difficult, requiring you to stress test your own ideas, study the business dynamics of the audience, then use predictive modeling. But, when you do, you’ll win the confidence of your audience and inspire a rush to action.
Your site is losing $14 million dollars of paid media spend because the bounce rate is 62%. Our personalization engine will ensure your display ads are triggered by customer behavior over the last 90 days AND customize the landing page to deliver consistent messaging. This will reduce wasted paid media by $7 million and increase the conversion rate for an additional $10 million in revenue. BOOM!
Does your current presentation on cloud automation or toners have Care AND Do AND Impact?
4. Don’t be content free.
TMAI 111 was dedicated to content-free and offered two useful examples you can use as reference.
90% of the presentations that fall flat, 99.99% of the presentations that fail to persuade, are content-free. Much of what comes out of the speaker’s mouth and appears on slides, flipcharts and whiteboards is meaningless.
This is a fast track to losing the respect of every person in the audience – including the A/V staff.
5. Pro tip: End with targets.
Even with just one or two ideas — no matter how simple or compelling, the audience will face a hurdle figuring out how to employ them, when they should start and what success should look like to them.
If you follow Care-Do-Impact, you’ll want to end with a summary of actions (the Dos). This gives the audience actionable takeaways.
If the Dos slide ranks and prioritizes the actions, even better!
If you want to go the extra mile, apply time-frames.
As an example my latest keynote on artificial intelligence and machine learning shares specific Dos in three categories: investment in internal company capabilities (Learn), the first collection of projects to execute inside a company (Build) and specific applications of machine learning on analytics and marketing (Profit).
My final slide has a specific target I want the audience to hit in each area, in the next 12 months.
I’ve told them what to do, with prioritization, and demonstrated what success looks like within a specific time-frame. They know just what to shoot for. :)
Six tactical recommendations.
1. Please, please, please don’t use stock photos on your slides.
Stock photos are always used incorrectly. They obstruct your own view of your own ideas, driving you to spend too much time photo-hunting and not enough applying critical thinking to your message. The net result: (what you think is) a pretty slide without substance.
Pictures are triggers—different for every viewer. Your stock photo appears and I immediately stop listening to you and start wondering what ducks walking into a pond have to do with sales attribution.
What’s pretty in your presentation are your ideas. Present them in the raw. You’ll be more persuasive.
2 . Use fewer words on slides.
Everyone agrees that dense slides suck for presentations (they might serve better as handouts). Here are two small but effective tips to minimize verbiage:
A. No more than a tweet (140 characters) on a slide. If you have more, finesse, sharpen, sculpt.
B. No words coming out of your mouth should be on the slides.
You’ll be surprised at how well these simple rules work.
3. Buy a clicker.
I use the Logitech Spotlight. It is a bit expensive, but its simplicity, long range and snazzy aesthetic make the investment worthwhile.
Most of effective presenting is the comfort with which you manipulate your slides. The best storytellers reveal rather than puke, and revelation requires animations and transitions. A clicker you are comfortable with ensure you’ll do this comfortably and effectively.
Your posture and projected confidence will improve with heightened control over pacing.
4. Don’t stand in place.
It is unnatural. Walk. Make eye contact. Point at people. Stand in front of a person, look into his eyes and focus just on him, ignoring the other 2,000. You’ll be amazed by how special not just that person but everyone feels.
As you pull people into your storytelling, you’ll personify the story. Magic.
5. Notice the people on their phones.
As I tell stories, I’m very much in tune with the environment of the room, constantly gauging whether the audience is engaged, smiling, sitting just a little bit ahead in their seats.
I’m also noticing how many are on their phones. If 30% of your audience is on their phones or laptops, you are doing something wrong. Do something differently.
Change the delivery, skip to the next story, speak louder (or softer), increase the pace, say something provocative, stop talking… Do something.
I want my audience to listen to me, to give me their undivided attention. If they are on their phones, I’m losing—even if they are praising my keynote on Twitter. I want them to stop. I want them to listen.
Bonus: If people start asking unrelated, irrelevant questions, you are losing. Do something differently.
6. Don’t confess that you are accelerating; just do it.
To admit that you’re speeding up, or skipping slides, attempting to finish faster is to expose a lack of control. It reveals weakness.
If you need to skip slides because you want to finish on time, keep talking, create a bridge from where you are to where you need to be. the audience won’t notice any pivots; only you know your original presentation.
If you realize you are boring the heck out of people, don’t say, “I realize this part is boring; I’ll get to the good stuff soon.” Just jump ahead.
If you realize you need to speed through a section, don’t tell the audience. Just do it. (Ideally, just jump to the end, because rushing degrades the quality and retention of a presentation.)
Bottom line: It is challenging and frightening to stand in front of an audience of professionals and persuade them to see the world the way you see it. But that challenge offers a rare opportunity to activate a large group of people on your behalf, to drive them to work on your ideas toward not only their goals, but yours as well. When you do it right, you’ll find it immensely soul nourishing. It is why I do it, despite tossing and turning sleeplessly every night before. I remain a victim of impostor syndrome. My nerves still go wild every time I walk on stage.
But it couldn’t be more worth it, and I’m excited for you to find the same joy in persuasive storytelling.