Give a Great Speech: 3 Tips from Aristotle
Getting a presentation ready for primetime can sometimes be frustrating. Content is seldom an issue; organization is. This is especially true with major presentations either to a senior executive or board of directors. I like to impart a little advice I received from a Jesuit teacher who coached me for extemporaneous speech competitions.
"Three things you need to do, John," I recall him saying. "Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them." It was not until years later that I learned that this advice was not developed by the good Jesuit fathers but rather by the master of rhetoric himself, Aristotle. Not only did it work for me then, but it has also worked for a generation of executives with whom I have worked, as well as heads of state, and heads of committees.
Simple, direct and memorable, this Aristotelian "triptych" is a handy method to employ whenever you need to make a presentation, long or short, that you want people to remember. It is especially helpful for those in authority who need to build a case for their ideas as well as themselves.
1. Tell them what you will tell them. This is your opener in which you lay out why you are speaking to the audience. Your message should be predicated on two things: what you want to say, and what the audience needs to hear. Too many presenters focus on the first half but not the second. Knowing what your audience needs to hear is critical to the leadership aspect of your message. You are there to provide direction.
2. Tell them. This section is open ended. It is the time when you pour out all your content, and explain the details. As a leader, it is the best time for you to build your business case. Your message should ring with logic; that is, you need to emphasize the benefits of your points. But important messages also need to resonate with the heart. Put people in the position to feel why what you're saying is important and how things will be better when they follow through with your ideas.
3. Tell them what you just told them. Reiterate your salient points. For leaders, this is the opportunity to give people a reason to believe in your idea and in you. And then demonstrate how you and your team are the ones to deliver on the message. That is, if you are a sales person, how you will back up the product. Or if you are a CEO, how you will guide the company through troubled waters.
This is a formula but it need not be formulaic. That is you can imbue the structure with data but more importantly with your personality. Laden it with stories that amplify your points. Season it with numbers, add spice, sprinkle in humor. And relate the message to your audience.
Not only does Aristotle's triptych work for formal presentation, it can also help a leader organize her thoughts for her team, perhaps at a staff meeting or ad hoc meeting. Giving listeners structure gives people an opportunity to shape not only what you say but what you intend.
And here's something additional that Aristotle did not cover. Invite your audience, either during question and answer, or after a meeting, to tell you what you just told them. The military calls this the "brief back." It is an instant audit on your message. The repetition of your message will indicate whether you communicated clearly and concisely, or if you still have more work to do.
The beauty of this triptych is that it never gets old. It is as contemporary as the day Aristotle declaimed it and the Jesuits taught it to me 2,500 years later. Try it the next time you have a major presentation to deliver. You may save a great deal of time as well as ensure that people remember your message.
JOHN BALDONI is the president of Baldoni Consulting, an executive coaching firm. John speaks widely on leadership and has written 10 leadership books; his newest is Lead With Purpose: Giving Your Organization a Reason to Believe in Itself.
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