The 5 step formula for delivering an awe-inspiring presentation

This reliable structure works every time

Many books have tactics for giving a good presentation but few establish a reliable structure that works every time.

In The New Articulate Executive : Look, Act and Sound Like a Leader, Granville Toogood lays out an excellent five part progression for effective presentations.

1) Start strong

Just like a good movie, you want to start out with something that really grabs the audience.

"But how do I do that?"

The book provides a great list of techniques.

  1. Begin with the ending

  2. Personal Story

  3. Anecdote or illustration

  4. Rhetorical question

  5. Quotation

  6. Project into the future

  7. Look into past

  8. Humor

And another good trick to a strong start is having your opener down cold.

Anxiety levels drop after a few minutes so having the intro well-rehearsed gets you through the toughest part of the talk.

Work especially hard on your introduction. Research has shown that a speaker's anxiety level begins to drop significantly after the first 30 to 60 seconds of a presentation. Once you get through the introduction, you should find smoother sailing the rest of the way. [The Art of Public Speaking]

2) Have one theme

You'd love to convey 67 points and have everyone remember everything. And that is never going to happen.

(You don't even remember the eight techniques I listed under "Start strong" and you just read that a few seconds ago.)

Your audience can walk away with one really good message.

Be clear about what it is ahead of time and your presentation will be more focused.

How does the military make sure objectives are clear when plans are complex and lives are on the line?

They use a concept called "Commander's Intent," a crisp, plain-talk statement that appears at the top of every order, specifying the plan's goal, the desired end-state of an operation.

If the unpredictable occurs rendering plans ineffective, the CI still allows everyone to stay focused on the end goal.

The CI never specifies so much detail that it risks being rendered obsolete by unpredictable events. "You can lose the ability to execute the original plan, but you never lose the responsibility of executing the intent," says Kolditz… Commander's Intent manages to align the behavior of soldiers at all levels without requiring play-by-play instructions from their leaders. When people know the desired destination, they're free to improvise, as needed, in arriving there. [Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die].

Have one clear message and the presentation will be easier for you to craft and your audience to remember.

(Here's more on Commander's Intent.)

3) Good examples

Abstract concepts can be hard to grasp and remember. People need examples and stories as mental hooks to hang memories on.

Use anecdotes to illustrate principles for the audience. Create a way for them to see what you're talking about and to provide proof.

People remember stories, not stats.

When students are asked to recall the speeches, 63 percent remember the stories. Only 5 percent remember any individual statistic.

Furthermore, almost no correlation emerges between "speaking talent" and the ability to make ideas stick…The stars of stickiness are the students who made their case by telling stories, or by tapping into emotion, or by stressing a single point rather than ten. [Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die]

Here's more on how to be a great storyteller.

4) Conversational language

Always stay conversational. Research shows when you use big words to sound smart you're actually perceived as less intelligent:

Most texts on writing style encourage authors to avoid overly-complex words. However, a majority of undergraduates admit to deliberately increasing the complexity of their vocabulary so as to give the impression of intelligence. This paper explores the extent to which this strategy is effective. Experiments 1–3 manipulate complexity of texts and find a negative relationship between complexity and judged intelligence. This relationship held regardless of the quality of the original essay, and irrespective of the participants' prior expectations of essay quality. ["Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: problems with using long words needlessly" from Applied Cognitive Psychology, Volume 20, Issue 2, pages 139–156]

5) Strong Ending

How do you make sure the end of your presentation is strong and memorable? The book breaks out six methods that can help.

1. Summarize key point or key points. One or three. One is best.

2. Loop back to the beginning

3. Ask the audience to do something specific

4. Appeal to the positive

5. Project ahead

6. Tell a symbolic story that embraces your message [The New Articulate Executive : Look, Act and Sound Like a Leader]

Why is a strong ending so important?

Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, has shown that your brain really remembers only two things about an event: the emotional peak and the end.

Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues have shown that what we remember about the pleasurable quality of our past experiences is almost entirely determined by two things: how the experiences felt when they were at their peak (best or worst), and how they felt when they ended. This "peak-end" rule of Kahneman's is what we use to summarize the experience, and then we rely on that summary later to remind ourselves of how the experience felt. The summaries in turn influence our decisions about whether to have that experience again, and factors such as the proportion of pleasure to displeasure during the course of the experience or how long the experience lasted, have almost no influence on our memory of it. [The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less]

Now how am I supposed to remember all this?

Toogood uses the acronym POWER:

  • Punch (Strong opener)

  • One Theme

  • Window (Visualize with anecdotes)

  • Ear (Speak conversationally)

  • Retention

More on giving powerful presentations here and here.

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