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Presentation Skills for the "Unprofessional Speaker Part 4"
By Bill Wilson   Printer Friendly Version

This is the forth in a seven-part series of articles on presentation skills designed for persons who don't make or supplement their living from professional speaking.

Part 4 of 7: The Audience…
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

The first step in this phase of the process is to analyze the needs and determine the expectations of the audience. Imagine that new neighbors move in next door and you invite them over for dinner. When everyone's seated, you bring out the biggest, juiciest steaks they've ever seen. Then they break the news that they're vegetarians.

Embarrassing? To say the least. The same holds true when you're speaking to a group...you have to learn something about their "appetites" and "dining" preferences. What are their needs? Why did they invite YOU and what do they expect from you? What are their knowledge, skill and experience levels? What are their attitudes and feelings toward you and the subject matter? What are the demographics of the group?

For example, if you were asked to make a presentation on how insurance rates are made, would the structure, content and delivery of your presentation differ if the group consisted of building contractors as opposed to actuaries? I actually saw such a presentation made to a homebuilders association where the presenter used slides explaining linear regression analysis in the trending of loss costs. It would have taken buckets to catch all the drool that spilled from the lips of the glassy-eyed crowd.

Likewise, the tone of your presentation would depend on whether the audience was, in general, uninformed, apathetic, hostile, favorable, or mixed. As we'll discuss later, my experience has been that, unless you are delivering a funeral eulogy, humor (if used judiciously) is your most valuable ally. This analysis stage is critical...if not done properly, you will too often find yourself in a situation for which you are totally unprepared.

Once you've established what you believe to be the expectations of the audience, you'll need to arouse their curiosity both before and during your presentation. Therefore, I recommend that you select an attention-getting title for your presentation. For example, I used to do a seminar on insurance policy interpretation for independent insurance agents that I could have called "How to Interpret an Insurance Policy." Instead, I called it "How to Battle an Adjuster...and Win Every Time!" Agents loved the title! Needless to say, claims reps and adjusters didn't (but that's another story). Therefore, I subsequently changed the title to a more politically correct "How to Win Friends...and Influence Adjusters." This title still aroused curiosity, but was a little more politically correct and a lot less offensive to the claims reps that I dearly love (to battle).

With regard to generating curiosity during the presentation itself, you'll want to start out with a dynamite opener to get the audience's attention and make them eager to hear the rest of what you have to say. During the program, you'll want to liven things up by being creative. For example, when I discuss the pollution exclusion in a liability insurance seminar, the overhead I use has a bullet that says, "Martinis, potato chips, Heather Locklear, and peanut butter sandwiches." When I get to the discussion of personal injury and advertising injury, one of my overhead bullets says, "Marijuana, Mickey Mouse and Music City U.S.A." What do these terms mean? Don't they arouse your curiosity (even if you know nothing about insurance!)? That's the idea.

Before leaving this topic, I'd like to leave you with three maxims of public speaking from the perspective of your audience...

MAXIM #1: "Speaking is show business!"

First, never, ever forget the following truism: Speaking is show business! Again, unless you're delivering a funeral eulogy, announcing a corporate "downsizing" to a group of the downsized, or speaking at a similar somber event, people want to be entertained as well as informed. Even if you're making an ethos-based presentation, remember the words of Marshall McLuhan: "Education has to be fun, and fun has to be education." In my seminar, "Presentation Skills for the 'Unprofessional' Speaker," I examine this premise within the context of what I call "The Jolson Principle" which is: (1) give 'em what THEY want, (2) give 'em some more, (3) leave 'em wanting more.

MAXIM #2: "Be mediocre!"

Second, this doesn't mean that you have to be another Woody Allen or Sammy Davis, Jr., nor do you have to be a clone of Zig Ziglar or Tony Robbins. Keep in mind, within our context of "unprofessional" speaking engagements (meaning you're not making a living at this stuff), the following: Your audience will most likely be thrilled if you're just not boring! Honest!

That's an amazing statement, but absolutely 100% accurate...your audience will be satisfied if you aren't boring. If you're speaking at a Kiwanis Club meeting, a technical symposium or some other function in which the presenters are essentially "unprofessional" speakers, the audience does not normally have very high expectations. In fact, in most cases, they expect to be bored to death. Therefore, you can significantly exceed their expectations simply by not being boring. If, in fact, you're actually entertaining, they'll love you! Believe it or not, before long you will have attendees that will be willing to PAY you to speak!

MAXIM #3: "Your audience doesn't care..."

The third and final observation on this topic is the following (and this may hurt a little, but it's true): Your audience doesn't care about YOU...they care about themselves! As David Burpee of the Burpee Seed Company said, "I always try to remember that people really aren't interested in my seeds. They're interested in their gardens, their tomatoes, and their lawns."

Remember to give 'em what THEY want.

Copyright 1999-2000 by William C. Wilson, Jr.
All Rights Reserved.


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