It’s unavoidable. As much as we all want to live in our bubbles, particularly during a pandemic, every so often we have to make a presentation. It might be a meeting, a group setting with friends or a pitch to sell your new idea.
Or even bigger: the idea you’ve been nurturing that is the pivot in your life.
You know you can’t do it alone and you need to mobilize people to support you. It might be sponsors, or investors, the team you lead or even your local clergy. The rabbi or minister who might get behind you with critical support for your initiative.
The art of persuasion is not just about presenting the most logical argument or the essential material. Your presentation must come alive. It must connect emotionally with the audience’s experience.
Whether it’s a lunch presentation, convincing a sceptic, advising a client, or talking to superiors, you have to leave the world of facts and figures and enter story-telling mode.
So many of us are convinced that the right slide deck or power point presentation will carry the day. It defies logic. Have you ever tried to sit through one of those presentations? How many times have you just clicked off or tuned off? Who can follow those things?
More important, what do you remember of that presentation as little as four hours later, when someone asks, “What did I miss?” I rarely remember the themes of most speeches, though I will always remember a good story. I will always remember a speaker who gets me thinking and feeling while they speak.
Robert McKee, a renowned expert in writing skills, teaches that even monologue is dialogue. Great writers and great speakers engage their audience in conversation.
Think about your favourite book. You root for a character, or get upset about her poor choices. Have you reread it? Why? That is the art of dialogue between the author and your brain. We can do the same when speaking.
Here’s an example: I could speak about animal mortality rates and pop up my power point slide showing you all the statistics. Boring! Or I can say “Have you ever lost a pet? My dog Kelsey was a glorious golden doodle.”
At this point I might stop and flash a photo of Kelsey. Everyone loves a happy dog.
“Perfectly obedient until she caught sight of a squirrel. One day she got away from me in the park. I watched in horror as she ran through the gate that had been left open. I began to run. I began to pray as she galloped across a busy boulevard."
"She couldn’t see the squirrel on the other side, but she could smell it. There was no other distraction. Thump, thump……pitiful whimpering, all as I watched helplessly. … my heart ground to a halt…. It had to be one of the worst moments of my life. Have you ever experienced anything like that?"
"Let’s talk about mortality. How many dogs die needlessly every year in America?”
Understand that natural speakers are not born. Like anything else, learning to story-tell is a skill you can acquire.
Useful tips to convey your message
Shorter is better. Longer is torture. The average audience attention span has shifted from 8 minutes pre-pandemic to approximately seven seconds today, which is about that of a goldfish.
In addition to being shorter, change things up regularly. Speeds, pitch, pauses, and tempos. One single monotone is deathly.
Like a Michelin star sauce, the key is reduce, reduce, reduce. Until you have your story reduced to its essential message.
Pause after making key points and give the audience time to digest and react.
When you’re telling a story to friends you just tell it. You embellish it. The one thing you don’t do is to read it!
Nothing is better than practice. That’s why god invented cellphones. To record, play , re record…. Until you get it.
It will never sound the same twice. That’s the point. Tell your story so it doesn’t sound rehearsed. Don’t try to remember the precise words… just the story line.
Connect with emotion. People remember how you make them feel. They never remember facts.
At any age or stage in life, you may be at the point where a pitch is essential to your goal of success. Keep these tricks in mind to help you arrive at your goal.