What happens when people ask you to address a group of people to persuade them to take action on an idea? Chances are that you suddenly become aware of your heartbeat, your throat may become dry, you nervously take a sip of water, stand up, and then notice that all eyeballs in the room are focused on you. In one short moment you may have experienced a surge of anxiety that you are trying to mask with a smile that has a hard time sticking to your face.
How should you prepare for a speech
In the past five years I have learned more about giving presentations than I learned in the 20 years before that. Each year I conduct three sales leadership conferences and three Sales 2.0 conferences that attract a total of more than 1,800 people. In the beginning I wrote my own speeches word for word. A 45-minute speech translates into about 4,000 words, or about 10 pages of type. I would spend the entire weekend writing the speech, editing it through the night, and changing it again the next morning. After a couple of practice rounds, I would find a better way to express my ideas and edit the speech again. I found that there is an inevitable struggle between expressing an idea in your head and translating the idea into words on paper.
When I was on stage, I found myself looking at my notes very infrequently. Why? I wanted to connect with my audience. But as I focused on the audience, I found myself wanting to get back to my speech. This was a different struggle. On one hand I wanted to read my speech; on the other, I wanted to address the audience.
Finding the courage to speak what’s on your mind
Over time I discovered that it was helpful to create a pictorial road map for my speech. Instead of stringing together words and sentences, I strung together 10 to 20 key ideas. I would create a PowerPoint slide to illustrate each idea. I found arresting images for each idea and used very little text on each slide. This method immediately solved the problem with the structure of my presentation. The slides reminded me of the subjects, and I could pay more attention to the audience.
The first time around I still wrote a complete speech using the new structure. But when I started my talk, I realized that I didn’t look at my notes. I left the script at the podium and never lost eye contact with my audience. I felt at ease, and I felt a true connection with the audience.
Power presenters follow a planned process
My next learning experience came while working with Jerry Weissman, a former producer of CBS TV shows, executive presentation coach and CEO of Power Presentations Ltd. Jerry is also the author of the new book The Power Presenter. I had the privilege of interviewing him in his Silicon Valley office. He taught me a number of secrets that he has shared in the video interview below. Here is one that I will never forget: Most speakers are not aware that they are not establishing a full connection with their audience. Their eyes dart from one person to the next, without focusing on anyone. Jerry taught me a great process. Let’s say you want to make an important point. Pick someone at random in the audience and focus on that person until you have complete eye contact. (Jerry calls this “eye connect.”) Act as if you are speaking just to that person in the room, and continue to address that person until you see by the person’s body language (e.g., head nodding) that he or she is completely tuned in to you. After you’ve finished making your point, pick someone at the other side of the stage and speak to that person. Over time, the audience will see that you are taking a personal interest in everyone, and as a result your impact on the audience will be far greater.
A historic presentation lesson: John F. Kennedy vs. Richard Nixon
In the 18-minute video below, you will find the world-famous TV debate between the two presidential candidates. Watch Kennedy’s body language and compare his confidence level to that of Nixon. Kennedy appears poised and confident. Nixon slouches from one side to another; he clutches the lectern, all signs of insecurity.
Jerry Weissman shares a three-part formula for creating natural and confident presentation. First, connect with your audience members’ eyes. Don’t speak to the crowd, but speak to one person at a time.
Second, reach out to your audience with open gestures. (You’ll see Jerry modeling this key gesture).
Third, use animation. Instead of describing the art of being lively, Jerry shows a video of General Norman Schwarzkopf holding a press conference. Products tend to become commodities and personalities tend to become dull over time, but as this video clearly shows, when you follow Jerry’s three-part formula, you’ll become more powerful and more persuasive. This formula got Obama into the White House, and it can help you get to a much higher level of success.
Note: If you want to see some of the leading presenters in the field of sales and sales management, sign up for our Sales Leadership Conference in Miami on November 9th.
Question: What’s your best-kept power presentation secret? Please feel free to share it!
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