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For Better Presentations: Think in 3s, ‘Paint Pictures’, Wiggle Your Toes

“For Better Presentations: Think in 3s, ‘Paint Pictures’, Wiggle Your Toes”

Audiences ask three questions: status quo? challenge? solution?

You’re given 10 minutes to rouse the interest of a venture capitalist or sales prospect, so you talk extra fast to cover everything. Bad move.

In your excitement, you may hop from point to point haphazardly. Enthusiasm can work against you if it causes you to babble.

To deliver a persuasive presentation, start with a clear roadmap of where you want to take your listeners. Identify key ideas you want to plant in your audience’s head before you say a word.

Prepare for a big speech by thinking in threes and organizing your subject matter into sections:

  1. The current situation: Introduce yourself, summarize why you’re speaking and describe your business. That way, you begin by bringing everyone up to date. Don’t repeat yourself or insert needless details. Stick with the main facts.
  2. Identify a challenge: Pose a riddle or present a vexing problem that your business is confronting. Example: "We want to overcome seasonal downturns in our industry by devising a product that satisfies a year-round need" or "Our challenge is to anticipate the next wave of personal electronics and make accessories for future users."
  3. Propose a solution: Conclude with a discovery or realization that addresses the challenge. Build suspense by prequalifying the solution: "It has to be cheap, durable and easy to mass produce."

Open your speech with a one-sentence preview rather than plunging right into the situation: "I’ll begin by assessing the situation right now, then present the challenge we’re facing and the solution we’ve come up with."

The best speakers paint pictures with their words. Instead of describing your business in dry terms ("We’re an Internet-security company"), describe what it does ("We protect your information from invisible thieves").

Beware of overdosing on technical jargon. The more you show off your knowledge, the more you’ll put people to sleep. If you’re too close to your subject, it’s often difficult to separate what’s really important for the audience to know. Put yourself in the listeners’ shoes, and limit your comments to what matters most to them.

Finally, control your nervous energy. Plant your feet and stand up straight so that you don’t sway or pace too much. If you want to walk on stage, take a few steps to visually reinforce your transition from point to point. For example, limit your pacing to when you’re moving from describing your situation to your challenge — or when shifting from the challenge to the solution.

Gesture naturally, but keep your hands away from your face where they might sever eye contact with the audience. And loosen your facial muscles so that you appear warm and expressive.

Warm-up tip: To unleash your jitters, wiggle your toes. That provides a safe outlet for your physical anxiety.

Writer: Morey Stettner interviewed Spring Asher, principal of Chambers & Asher Speechworks, an Atlanta-based speech-consulting firm.