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Presentation Skills for the "Unprofessional Speaker Part 6"
By Bill Wilson   Printer Friendly Version

This is the sixth 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 6 of 7: The Presentation…
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

The presentation itself has three components:

  • The Planning Phase. After assessing the situation and audience, you're ready to plan your presentation. First, you'll want to research and develop the main points of your program. Then, using this raw material, you will identify your central theme, develop each point to support that premise, organize the content around these main points, and prepare an outline.
  • The Preparation Phase. In this phase, you'll take the substance of your presentation and bring it to life by structuring it in accordance with several fundamental public speaking principles such as "The Universal Speaker's Law" and the "Magical Rule of 3." Then, you'll further enliven it by illustrating your points with humor, quotations, analogies, anecdotes, and other tools.
  • The Delivery Phase. This phase involves issues such as personal style, use of audio/visuals (if any), incorporation of "games and gimmicks," use of participative exercises, and many other techniques beyond the scope and space constraints of this course.

In my (hopefully) forthcoming book, "Presentation Skills for the 'Unprofessional' Speaker," we use an analogy to demonstrate the three phases of a presentation: Creating Frankenstein's Monster. The Planning Phase is presented as Scene One: The Graveyard...digging up the body parts. The Preparation Phase is presented as Scene Two: The Laboratory...stitching all those parts together. The Delivery Phase is presented as Scene Three: The Public Square...where Frankenstein's monster is brought to life and must confront the public. Here we'll stick to the essentials...

The Planning Phase

This phase involves an extensive amount of research using authoritative reference materials and, increasingly, the Internet. You want to amass as much information on your topic as you can reasonably find in the time available for research. For the most part, you can't find too much information...you can always pare it down later to fit your time frame. After establishing your central theme, you can organize the content using several techniques such as mind mapping, storyboarding, affinity diagrams, wheel charts, and, my personal favorite, manila folders! I've found that, for ethos-type educational programs that are linear in structure, a simple system such as manila file folders works quite nicely. However, I've often had to resort to the "stacks of paper on the ping pong table in the garage" technique, though that one is much too complex to present in an introductory course such as this. : - )

The Preparation Phase

The next step is to restructure your outline into a "presentable" format. Two techniques known to all professional speakers can be used in this step. The first is "The Universal Speaker's Law" which says: (1) Tell them what you're going to tell them, (2) tell them, and (3) tell them what you told them. In other words, every presentation should have: (1) an introduction, (2) a body, and (3) a conclusion. The introduction should include a dynamite, attention-getting opener and a brief summary of what you're going to tell them. The conclusion should include a dynamite, thought-provoking closer following a brief summary of what you told them.

That leaves the body itself and another speaker's "law" to consider here is what is known as the "Magical Rule of 3." Simply stated, if you limit your presentation to three main points, you'll never go wrong. This is not an absolute maxim, but it is one that always works for a very simple reason...most people can't remember more than three things you tell them. If you want your presentation to be memorable, then limit your "message" to three points.

These concepts are discussed at length in my seminar and (hopefully) forthcoming book. Finally, although the substance and form is now there, to make your points clear, understandable and memorable, you have to provide illustrations. If you observe most professional speakers, they make their points real and memorable using anecdotes, humor, quotations, and so forth. Numerous examples and resources are cited in the (hopefully) forthcoming book (do you sense a message here?).

The Delivery Phase

The Delivery Phase involves concepts such as personal style, enunciation, and use of repetition, body language, and use of audio-visuals. Each of these is discussed in the seminar and companion manual. In this section of the abridged, online version, we'll focus on two areas...things you should NOT do, and techniques you can use to bring Frankenstein's monster to life. First, here are three "DON'Ts":

  1. Don't recite. For most of the public speaking that you're likely to be doing, don't try to memorize a speech. One of the most boring presentations I ever saw was a guy who had memorized a 20-minute speech. Similarly, I used to attend a church where the pastor was noted for his ability to cite lengthy Biblical verses from memory...at least that's what I was told by the three people who remained awake. A presentation that comes across as "canned" is perceived to be insincere and trite.
  2. Don't read. Think for a minute...when was the last time somebody read to you? If you're like me, it was probably your mother who read to you at bedtime. And, what was the purpose of her reading to you? I rest my case.
  3. Don't start with a joke…or at least be REAL careful. The true mark of a real 'unprofessional' speaker is a person who feels compelled to start their presentation with a joke. Nine times out of ten, that joke is either not funny or, if it is, you've heard it a dozen times during the past month...if a popular joke is going around, most of your audience will have heard it. Also, ninety nine times out of a hundred, the joke has nothing to do with the presentation, such as, "Before I get started, I heard a funny joke the other day..." Humor is a principal tool of my speaking style, but it has to be used properly and in the right context to be effective.

Finally, here are THIRTEEN techniques you can use to liven up and illustrate the points of your presentation:

Quotations. Quotations can be a great tool for not only supporting a premise or point, but also as a brainstorming tool to develop presentations. For more information on this, take a look at my article elsewhere on this site: "Quotations: They're Not Just for Drunks Anymore."

Analogies. I do a seminar called "The Five Habits of Highly Effective Leaders." In distinguishing between management and leadership, I use a quotation as an analogy: "Efficient management without effective leadership is like straightening deck chairs on the Titanic." An analogy makes a point more memorable.

Definitions. If you're making a presentation on politics, you'll want to define a Politician: Someone who will borrow $20, repay you $10, then say you're even because you both lost 10 bucks! Or, how about an Auditor: Someone who goes in after the war is lost and bayonets the wounded. Or, an Attorney: Someone who goes in after the auditors are through and pick the pockets of the dead. Caution: be wary of how you use these definitions...believe me, if you're speaking to attorneys, they won't appreciate attorney jokes...besides, they've heard them all before.

Anecdotes. If you listen to the well-known professional speakers, most of them build their presentations around humorous or inspiring anecdotal stories. In the unabridged (hopefully) forthcoming book version of this program, we give you a number of anecdotes you can use and show how you can use your own experiences in your presentations.

Rhetorical Questions. One caveat: if you use a rhetorical question, be prepared for someone to actually respond. I once sat on the front row to hear an absolutely gorgeous speaker start her presentation with the question, "Did you ever have a sexual fantasy?" Without missing a beat, I responded, "Does right now count?"

Direct Statements. These are usually statements you make about yourself or an action you took. They work best when you poke fun at yourself, although Don Rickles has made a career of insulting his audience. Just be careful how you do it.

Startling Statistics. Statistics are too often used improperly in a presentation but, if used effectively, they can make the subject matter more interesting, understandable, and memorable. For example, I've often cited a university study that alleges that, at any given time, 20% of the audience listening to a speaker is thinking about sex. You can have fun with that statistic! A point to keep in mind is that the audience doesn't care about "data"...just what the data means, why it's important to them, and what they should do about it. In other words, present statistics as information, not facts.

Historical Events. There are a number of books and Internet sites along the lines of "On this day…." I once did a September 28 presentation on quality management and mentioned that on that date in 1930, Lou Gehrig committed his first error in 885 games...almost six years without an error. On the date you are to make a presentation, check on of these references and see if there were any historical events on that date that you could tie into your material.

Personal Secrets. Remember the "coming out" episode of the TV sitcom "Ellen"?

Cartoons. I have a large file of cartoons for all occasions. In one presentation I do, an element of the program involves interpersonal effectiveness. I use an overhead with a cartoon of a man on a couch with his psychiatrist. The caption has the man saying, "If you weren't so stupid, you could tell me why people automatically dislike me." An important caveat with cartoons is that, if they are copyrighted (and they almost always are), you must get permission to use them. In many cases, you will have to pay a fee ranging from $15 to $150.

Games & Gimmicks. I have several "tricks" that I've used for years. For example, when I do this presentation, to illustrate the "Magical Rule of 3," I put up an overhead with six playing cards and ask the audience to think of any one of the cards. Then I replace the overhead with another one that has five cards and I ask them if their card is missing. No matter which card they chose, it is always missing! How does this work and how does it tie into the "Magical Rule of 3"? My seminar and (hopefully) forthcoming book explain (rats!).

Participative Exercises. You have to do something about every six minutes during your presentation that require some sort of audience participation or response. There are lots of exercises you can do and plenty of sources of information on this subject. A good one is "Games Presenters Play" by Lilly Walters & Jeff Dewar.

Props. I'm not Gallagher or CarrotTop, but I have a few props I use in my seminars and presentations. A great one is used by Stephen Covey in his "7 Habits" workshop and involves a jar, sand, gravel, and rocks. Dealing with priorities and "putting first things first," by filling the jar with sand and then gravel, you'll find that there's not enough room left for all of the big things in life (in this case, the rocks). However, if you put the rocks in first, and then pour the gravel, then the sand into the cracks, you'll find that everything will fit if you "put first things first."

By following these simple tools of the trade, you can indeed dramatically improve your public speaking.

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

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