Secret Sauce of a Successful Speech – Lesson 1: Know Your Goal

Define the goal of the speech.  What effect or purpose do you hope to achieve through this presentation?  Selling a product, furthering a cause, attracting investment?  Keep that point in mind.

Addressing your audience without knowing your purpose is equivalent to driving a car without knowing which direction to go.  Consider yourself the driver and your audience members the passengers.  Your audience should always be uppermost in your mind as you prepare a speech.  Ask yourself three questions:

  1. Who is your audience?  What are their interests, what do they want to learn from you?  Where do they want to go?
  2. What change or action do you want to affect in them?  Are you seeking customers?  Funding?  Followers?  Where do you want to take them?
  3. How is this audience best approached? Do you plan to sell them? Inspire them?  Entertain them?  What is the best route to take to reach your destination?

It is crucial to be clear on these questions before you write the first word of a presentation.  In considering your audience and your approach to them, what you will say and how to say it becomes more apparent.  Leave out that which does not support your goals in giving the talk.  That makes it more focused and also shortens the speech, something audiences appreciate.

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35 slides + 5 minutes = data overload

A universal tendency in public speaking is for people to try to fit too much into their talks. Presentation coaching helps you edit and tighten your content for maximum effect. That is especially necessary when you are given less time than usual to speak.

Here is an example from TEDxGreenville.  Prasanna Eswara, in first considering his talk, began with slides that accompanied a presentaion that he had given previously, but in which he had an hour to speak. However, for his TED talk he was only allowed five minutes, calling for a wholly different  andmuch more concise presentation.

Here is his initial PowerPoint which inluded 35 slides, animation, and was content-heavy even for an hour-long talk: initial PowerPoint

By cutting his content down to its essence, Prasanna was able to give the audience a strong speech in his  allotted time:



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The 3 Cardinal Sins of Public Speaking

Regardless of subject matter or the speaking style of a presenter, there are three overriding mistakes that speakers often make, each one of which can seriously diminish the impact of a speech.  Avoid these three items and you are well on your way to successful presentation.

Being unclear on your goals. Presentations should be made with a goal in mind. Not so much the ultimate goal (attracting investment, gaining new clients, selling your product or service) as the immediate goal of the presentation. Focus on the short-term goal, which may be as modest as beginning a conversation, booking a follow-up meeting, or sparking an interest in your company. With that specific goal in mind you can organize your presentation in a way that will maximize that possibility.  Without a specific goal, you are more liable to ramble and be disorganized, diminishing your chance of success.

Saying too much. One comment you never hear after a speech is, “That was fascinating, I wish she had gone on much longer”. Those who are enthusiastic and passionate about a subject tend to overspeak their case.  The highly educated often speak technically and over the head of the audience, seeking to emphasize their expertise and competence (while ultimately losing the audience).  The entrepreneur feels compelled to say everything that is good about his company; the politician recites a laundry list of every accomplishment she has had.

It is ALWAYS better to leave the audience craving more information than to watch them shut down due to data overload.  Say enough to get them interested and then remain available after your remarks to answer questions.  Sharing your knowledge in a question-and-answer format helps in two ways – you are speaking to the areas of interest to your audience, as they determine the questions.  Also, your credibility as an expert is reinforced as you demonstrate your knowledge through your ability to answer questions on your subject.

Reciting your speech. Presentations that are read aloud or memorized word-for-word and recited verbatim are stiff and distant in nature. The most successful speeches are those that connect on a personal level with the audience.  Public speaking is most effective if it is conversational in nature.  Prepare and hone your remarks, but give them as though you were talking to friends.  At the end of the day, people prefer doing business with people that they like, so always let your personality shine through your speech.

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Be Successful

Whatever your goal in business or career, your strong speaking skills will give you an edge over those who are less persuasive. The confidence you display in front of an audience is interpreted as competence, and translates to success in many areas.  Imagine yourself in one of these situations:
  • Entrepreneur/Inventor – you have a pioneering product or a better way to do business.  Success in attracting funding depends on your ability to clearly explain your innovation to investors, speaking in a way that excites them about helping to fund your business.
  • Manager – Your position sometimes requires you  to address a board or report to senior management, and a measure of your competence is how well you perform this task.  You may have few chances to be seen by those in authority, so make those instances count.  Or you have been promoted and now need to speak to a group as you direct your project team or department. Good leadership demands the ability to rally the troops, and confidence in addressing groups will be integral to your success going forward.
  • CEO or spokesperson – As the face of your business you represent your company.  When you speak to the media or address a conference, you are responsible for how those listening perceive your organization. Your strong and confident delivery will cause your audience to ascribe positive characteristics to your organization.
  • Salesperson– Your success in sales lies not only in the efficacy of your product but in how well you are able to explain its benefits to potential customers.  You are in competition for your market, and strong presentation skills will give you  the edge to increase your closing ratio.
  • Attorneys, architects, accountants, IT professionals – Your profession requires you to deliver complex information to laypeople serving on boards or government entities.  Adding personality to otherwise dry presentations will set you apart from your peers.  Simplifying and organizing technical information makes it accessible to your listeners.  Likewise, as you engage in business development you should realize that many clients consider your services a commodity.  Speak well and with heart and people will choose to work with you.
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Be Persuasive

Persuasion means creating action in others, whether it is making a sale, attracting investors, or gaining supporters. There is no more powerful tool to persuade others than a convincing verbal argument.

You may wish that you could forgo speaking to people, instead being able to just wave a wand and have them do what you want.   That’s wishful thinking but the same result is achievable through a strong presentation.  Once you are comfortable in your skin as a speaker and have mastered the techniques of an effective speaker, you have created the conditions in which persuasion can happen.

The distinction between conversation and public speaking is that public speaking is goal-oriented.  Our business name, Message Clarity, refers not just to having a clear speaking style.  Think of it also as Action Clarity; that is, being clear on what course of action you desire to evince in the members of your audience.   That action might be:

  • Convincing them to buy your product
  • Inspiring them to join your cause
  • Interesting them in investing money in your company
  • Changing their minds on an issue
  • Persuading them to vote for you

You must first be clear on your intentions and then effective in sharing that message.  If not you may was well be passing the time of day in conversation.  But with conditions right, your speaking can have an almost magical effect in galvanizing the audience to action.

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