PRESENTATION

4 Ways Audiences Challenge Speakers (and How to Respond)

As soon as you step on stage, your listeners are already making demands on you as a presenter. Here's an easy way to meet them.
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Occupying a prominent perch on my shelves and in my heart is a little book called "Public Speaking as Listeners Like It" by Richard C. Borden.

It was given to me by Marian Rich, a renowned and beloved New York teacher of voice and speech who worked with actors of all stripes (including Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, and Geraldine Page), and with business people on their public speaking. I co-taught with her at the New School for Social Research.

The book is a short public speaking course in and of itself. Here's the basic message: structure your presentation as a dialogue between yourself and the audience. Build it as if your audience were silently hurling the following challenges at you in sequence: Ho hum! Why bring that up? For instance? So what?

Ho hum!

"Just another boring talk," says the presentation audience to itself as it settles into its collective seats. In response to this challenge, break through their indifference and capture their attention with an opening that is more interesting than anything they could be thinking about or saying to one another.

Why bring that up?

"Okay, you got my interest," they say to themselves after you've delivered your introduction. "Where are you going with this?" Tell them why you brought it up. Make a case for the importance of your topic. Explain what the situation is, and what opportunities or problems there could be.

For instance?

"Sounds good in theory," they're thinking. "Give me an example. Be specific!" This is the time to get your presentation to speak in pictures. Use stories from your own life. Case studies from your research. Anecdotes from history or the news. Stories of famous people. Data is also useful, but only in partnership with real-life examples.

So what?

"Okay, I'm with you so far," they say silently. "You got my attention. You made me understand the relevance and importance of the issues, and you gave me specific examples so I can see exactly what the situation is. What do you want me to do?"

Tell them what they can do to solve the problem, or take advantage of the opportunity. Lay it out clearly, step by step. Blow the trumpet: call them to action.

As Borden says, quoting Confucius, "To talk much and arrive nowhere is the same as climbing a tree to catch a fish."

Here's a short sample that makes use of this four-part model.

1. Ho-hum! "The whole world is craning its neck into the future to see if Apple can survive the loss of Steve Jobs."

2. Why bring that up? "It's an interesting question: Can a great company stay great without its visionary leader? Analysts, investors, and Apple fans may be reserving judgment, but the magical money machine wrought by Steve and Woz is showing signs of fatigue."

3. For instance: 

  • The new CEO is a reclusive engineer without a primer coat of charisma. (To be developed)
  • His hard-driving deals with suppliers have been linked to worker suicides at the company's Foxconn facility in China. (To be developed)
  • Apple maps was a total disaster. (To be developed)
  • The iPhone updates have been disappointing. (To be developed)

4. So what? There is no question that the ghost of Jobs haunts the house of Apple. It was his decision to control both software and hardware, to fight Samsung in court, to go after Amazon by suggesting a pricing strategy that raised the eyebrows of the Justice Department. And while the company is cash rich, there are signs it may be troubled as it competes against its own golden past. Stakeholders, beware!

From Ho-hum! to So What? is a useful device for any presenter, and one that can save you time and provide a framework for approaching your topic in a sophisticated manner.

I have a hard-bound copy of this punchy, provocative book, and on Amazon you will see that my version is worth about $80. I wouldn't sell it for 10 times that amount.

If you want to complete your presentation library, get the book!

IMAGE: Clinton Global Initiative / Flickr.com
Last updated: May 7, 2014

SIMS WYETH

I'm a speech and presentation coach. I write speeches, work with executives on their content and delivery, run presentation skills workshops, and give speeches about speaking. My most recent book is The Essentials of Persuasive Public Speaking.




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