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Preparing A Presentation
By Larry Tracy   Printer Friendly Version

The most time-tested lesson in public speaking is "Tell'em what you are going to tell'em: Tell'em: Tell'em what you told'em." When you "Tell'em what you are going to tell'em" in your introduction, you send a signal as to what "files" the audience members should open in their minds. When you "Tell'em" in the body, you place the data you wish the audience to comprehend and retain in those "files" they have opened. When you "Tell'em what you told'em," you are hitting the "save" button and reinforcing the data already presented. Remember that in a spoken presentation, the listener, unlike the reader of a written essay, cannot "re-read" a passage not comprehended or look up a word not understood. Consequently, a built-in redundancy is necessary to have your message understood.

The "3-1-2" method is a refinement of the "Tell'em" method. All presentations should have three parts--a beginning, a middle, and an end. Most people start drafting their presentation by writing in the order in which they will deliver the presentation--(1) the introduction, (2) the body, and (3) the conclusion. This "1-2-3" method is intimidating, like standing at the bottom of a steep hill and envisioning the long climb to the top. Just thinking about the task can cause procrastination. When finally initiated, the "1-2-3" system can lead to false starts because it lacks focus.

The "3-1-2" method, in contrast, is less intimidating and results in a focused presentation with thematic unity, so necessary in an oral presentation. Start your draft with the "bottom line" conclusion (#3), then develop an opening (#1) that grabs the attention of the audience, spells out the benefits they will achieve by listening to you, and tells them what you are going to address. By starting with your conclusion, you now have a destination--you know where you are heading with your presentation. With the beginning and ending on paper, your task of enumerating supporting data and arguments (#2) will be much easier. It will be like standing on top of the hill and contemplating your descent to the bottom--not as intimidating as the "1-2-3" method from the bottom of the hill.

Here is where a lawyer's education and experience can be very beneficial in the boardroom. The "3-1-2" system derives from a concept with which lawyers are very familiar--the "Doctrine of Recency and Primacy." As trail lawyers know so well, juries--and probably senior corporate officers--tend to pay more attention to what they hear at the beginning and the end of presentations, with much less comprehension during the middle. Thus the importance attached by lawyers to their opening statement--their version of " Tell'em what your are going to tell'em" and their final summation to the jury--the "Tell'em what you told'em/ Placing the focal point of the presentation at the end and the beginning of the presentation increases the likelihood the audience will listen, retain, and act upon this message which is supported by the elaboration of the supporting evidence in "2."

Some people are more comfortable drafting the text of their presentation in full. This allows for a more complete exposition of the data. But it also means that you may use language and syntax more appropriate for the written rather than the spoken presentation, which can be confusing to the ears of the audience. A "main point" outline is an alternative that will allow you to move more directly to "spoken," more conversational, language.

As you prepare your draft, use the active voice and concrete, not abstract, language. Use declarative, but not compound, sentences. Give specific examples, and do not be afraid to tug at the heart strings of your audience. Your message, and the words that convey it, must be grasped by these listeners when you say them. They cannot do an "instant replay." Know the audience members needs and concerns, and frame your "case" in such a way that your presentation solves these needs/concerns. Make it easier for audience members to remember what you want them to remember with stories and anecdotes that emphasize your main points. These illustrations can be the glue that makes the main points "stick" in the minds of your listeners.

After completing the draft--verbatim or outline--reduce your presentation to 3x5 cards with large-lettered "memory joggers". Then practice by yourself in front of a mirror, with tape recorder, or better yet with a video camera. Listen for your pace, your inflection, your enthusiasm, and if you are using "uh," "er," "you know," or other fillers that render the otherwise intelligent person appear illiterate. See how much better you would sound if you replaced these sounds with pauses. If videotaping, watch your body language, facial expression, and gestures.

See where visuals can be inserted. These visuals should be thought of as exclamation points or highlighted sections of your presentation. Make them simple and interesting--be careful of organization charts and "laundry lists." Use large lettering (better to have large letters written with a magic marker than small letters from a computer.) Use only the top two-thirds of the transparencies (so people in the rear can read without being required to stand) and use telegraphic language, limiting letters to minimum necessary. Use color if you can.

For overhead transparencies, use the "revelation technique" when you have a "bullet outline." Tape strips of cardboard along the side of the vu-graph, keeping points on the visual covered until you discuss them. This will keep your audience focused on the point you are emphasizing, rather than reading point four while you are still talking about point one. Check the alignment of your vu-graph on the projector so that it appears straight on the screen. This may require you to place an "L-shaped" tape guide on the glass. Then orient your overheads in relation to this newly-created frame, and you will not have to check that the visual is "squared away" on the screen. Some audience members could be annoyed and distracted by visuals that appear crooked on the screen. The above advice can, of course, also be applied when using a computer-driven presentations program such as PowerPoint.

The "Murder Board."
The "Murder Board, which has its origins in military briefings, is the functional equivalent of the steps lawyers go through to ready themselves for trial, and witnesses to face cross-examination. It is a "moot court" with the twin objectives of (1) honing delivery skills and (2) developing succinct, accurate answers to questions that are likely to be asked by the audience to which the presenter is preparing to speak. The "Murder Board" is to the presenter what the flight simulator is to the pilot. It permits the presenter to learn from his/her mistakes, so that the actual presentation is more responsive to the audience's needs. It is especially valuable in preparing for competitive sales presentations.

Why have a "Murder Board?" Cannot the intelligent presenter anticipate the tough questions likely to be asked? The answer to these questions is that no matter how hard we try to think of tough questions that may be asked, a little censor in our mind generally provides only questions to which we already have answers. We need other minds to push us. Albert Einstein said that "what a person does on his own, without being stimulated by the thoughts and experiences of others, is even in the best cases rather paltry and monotonous."

The principal benefit of this simulation is to allow the speaker to "feel the heat" before doing the real thing. It enables the presenter to anticipate questions--thereby developing answers to these questions--and get the "feel" of the presentation. Done properly, the "Murder Board" not only provides a realistic simulation, it also increases self-confidence. It is folly to go into an important presentation, such as a competitive sales presentation without such rigorous preparation, for it permits the speaker to make mistakes when they do not count, allowing him or her to make corrections in material or style before the actual presentation.

If the "Murder Board" makes such sense, why then is it not universally adopted by all speakers? Perhaps because it requires time that busy people can easily justify to themselves they do not have, and because the "fear of speaking" will cause people to avoid doing something twice that they do not want to do even once.

How does one go about having a "Murder Board?" Swallow your pride and request colleagues to be your "audience," and share with them all the information you have gained on the people to whom you will be speaking. This will enable these colleagues to effectively "role-play" key people in the actual audience. Hold this practice session in a place similar to that where you will make the presentation to familiarize you with the environment. This technique can be used in preparing for a stand-up presentation as well as a meeting. The objective is to lessen the likelihood of being "ambushed," and to have practice in maintaining composure in the stress-inducing experience of a confrontational or other high-pressure speaking situation.

This simulated audience should be encouraged to ask the toughest, most realistic questions, and the entire session should be audio and/or videotaped. Ask for a candid assessment of both substance and delivery skills from participants, thank them for their time, and then review the taped presentation. Look for distracting body language, listen for annoying vocal patterns. Place yourself in the position of your prospective audience. Would you "buy" what "that person" on the screen is "selling?"

Place all the questions asked on 3x5 cards, and then work at perfecting your answers, which should be placed on the other side of the cards. Play "flashcards," thereby building self-confidence and internalizing the information.

Examine the information that you developed as a result of the questions and discussions from your role-playing colleagues, and insert into your presentation that which you feel will add punch and perhaps preempt questions in the actual presentation/meeting. Keep a few "zingers" in reserve so you can impress your audience with what appears to be extemporaneous brilliance.

A Final Thought

Courtroom and the Boardroom presentations have more in common than many may think. Both have the objective of planting information in the brains of those in their respective audiences so particular actions are taken. They both use the spoken word, with all its power and complexity. The legal presentation can be ponderous in its overuse of words, and the boardroom presentation, with its emphasis on saving time with the "Bottom Line Up Front" approach, can be superficial. Let me close with words uttered in ancient Greece, the birthplace of oratory. Although enamored of style, rhetorical flourish and stentorian voice, the Greeks knew the purpose of speaking to a group was to move these audience members to a particular action. They compared the greatest speaker of their day, Demosthenese, to one who had lived a century before, and they said: "When Demosthenese speaks, People say ‘How well he speaks,' but when Pericles spoke, people said "Let us March.'"

Copyright © 2000 by Lawrence L. Tracy
All Rights Reserved.

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