Public speaking comes with communicators’ job description, and these executives have to do it in so many capacities: presenting campaign results to senior management, pitching ideas to clients, holding press conferences, delivering presentations at conferences—the list goes on and on.
To make it all the more challenging, each of these scenarios requires some degree of persuasive communication—the act of influencing a decision—be it to get a bigger budget, win a new account, gain employee buy-in, convince a reporter to cover (or not cover) a story about your company or inspire customers to buy your product or service.
Regardless of your audience and objective, there are a few elements that are always required for a presentation to be successful: thorough preparation, compelling content and a poignant delivery. To incorporate this trifecta into every presentation and, in turn, persuade the audience to take a certain action, communications execs should consider the following strategies.
â–¶ Know your audience. “Before any presentation or meeting, internal or external, you should take a good look at the composition of your audience,” says Andy Gilman, president of CommCore Consulting Group. “Knowing the audience will help you create and tailor your message, and anticipate questions and concerns.”
To audit your audience and tailor a presentation’s content accordingly, keep the following things in mind:
• Demographics (age, income, location, profession)
• Their knowledge of the subject
• Their interest in the subject (are they there because they have to be or because they want to be?)
• Their relationship to you (employee, manager, customer, etc.)
• Your purpose (inform, solve a problem, make a decision, sell, etc.)
â–¶ Determine the format. The type of presentation will determine your course of action. Your presentation could be any one of the following:
• Speech with/without Q&A
• Panel discussion
• Conference (in-person or video)
â–¶ Develop content. The vehicle through which you disseminate your information will vary (Powerpoint, speech, charts/graphs, etc.), but the content must always be compelling and succinct in order to be effective and persuasive.
Laine Conklin, a senior consultant with CommCore Consulting Group, recommends visualizing the content-creation process in terms of a “triangle of persuasion” in which the three components are:
• Message: Sound bites, anecdotes, the bottom line (for tips on crafting memorable sound bites, see sidebar).
• Audience: The “what’s in it for me?” factor.
• You: Your body language, voice, delivery, etc.
In terms of overall content, all presentations should have a beginning, a middle and an end, each of which contains specific information:
• Beginning: A personalized introduction with an anecdote, a statement of purpose.
• Middle: Supporting evidence, in-depth information, anecdotes.
• End: Summary of key points, call to action, anecdote that crystallizes theme.
Keeping these elements in mind, draft your presentation/speech. Gilman recommends the following best practices when doing so:
• Write your ending first.
• Look for an opening that will grab the audience’s attention.
• Have the beginning and ending mirror each other to underscore your key messages.
• Use plain language that is easy to understand; avoid jargon.
• If applicable, create a hard copy of presentation slides with notes.
â–¶ Prepare for the Q&A session. Most presentations will involve some type of Q&A session, be it formal or informal. According to Gilman, there are four reasons why this is the most important part of any presentation:
1. It is the time when the audience is most interactive and can participate in an exchange of information.
2. It is an opportunity to reemphasize important points.
3. It gives you a chance to introduce new information/ideas.
4. The last things said are the most likely to be remembered by the audience.
“Preparation and energy are two key ingredients of the Q&A,” Gilman says. “The benefit of a successful Q&A is reinforcement of the major message in your presentation.”
He identifies the following best practices for turning the Q&A session into an opportunity to make your message even more persuasive:
• Set ground rules.
• Don’t repeat questions (unless someone asks you to because they didn’t hear them).
• Take tough questions to show the audience you are willing to confront controversial issues.
• Bridge answers as often as possible to reiterate your key messages.
• If possible, move from behind the podium to more actively engage with the audience.
• Make eye contact with questioners.
• Have a few questions to pose in case the audience is slow to speak up.
• Keep it moving; avoid long-winded answers so you have time to answer as many questions as possible.
• Leave on a high note.
Ultimately, becoming a truly persuasive communicator is an artistic endeavor, but executives can plug their content into this equation of best practices to bring a bit of science to the art form. PRN
Andy Gilman, firstname.lastname@example.org; Laine Conklin, email@example.com