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How to Organize Your Way Out of the Organizational Oops

by Jean Dickson

It often isn’t what you say that loses your audience. It might not be how you say it that has them yawning of thinking of something else. Instead, the problem might be the way you frame what you’re saying. A lack of organization is a common problem when a presentation doesn’t have the impact it should have.

Oops! You've just killed your chances for promotion by being only mildly competent.

But there’s good news. There are several things you can do to organize your speech and capture your audience’s attention.

Before even beginning your speech, you have to know who your audience is. This is critical for crafting a memorable presentation. Why? Because a presentation that WOWs a meeting of child-care workers won’t necessarily WOW a group of web page developers or a roomful of university professors.

Think: Who is the audience? What appeals to them? Do they want to be entertained or informed? Will I need to persuade them or are they already with me? What is the topic or subject?

WRITE DOWN THE ANSWERS ON POST-IT NOTES.

Then...

A: Get a new sheet of paper and at the bottom, write down the ending - what you want to leave the audience with or convince them of.

B: At the top of the page, write down what the audience is likely to think/feel about the topic before you begin your speech or presentation.

C: In between these two points, jot down all the thoughts you have on getting from A to B. After you are finished, transfer each thought to a post-it note.

Using a wall as a “cork board,” arrange the post-it notes in a way that makes sense to you. Note, you don’t have to use all your post-it notes. For a seven minute presentation, you would probably have three points that with the introduction and conclusion would add up to six or seven minutes. Put the places where the audience is at the top of your “cork board” arrangement.

Then write up a paragraph or two on each point. Using blank post-it notes as tape, stick these on the wall (or table) in order.

After you’ve done this, look at who your audience is and where they are at. Then objectively look at your points and say, “Will these points get this audience to where I want them to go?” If they don’t, redo your points, thinking about your audience.

What you want to do next is write a sentence or two to join point number one to point number two. For instance, you might say, “While monetary rewards seem to be the most commonly used motivational tools in business, many experts say that they are practically worthless at improving performance over the long term.”

After you put points that work, you have the body of your presentation. Now you have to do is create an introduction and conclusion. But it isn’t as simple as it seems. Believe it or not, your introduction and your conclusion are the most important part of your speech. A common mistake among presenters (myself included) is to work hard on building up the middle, putting all your data and effort into making it work, and not spending the same amount of time (or MORE!) on the introduction and conclusion.

In a business presentation, the introduction should always have a “hook” and the conclusion a call for action. Of these, the introduction is the harder to master. It is difficult coming up with a “hook” - much harder than coming up with a call for action.

Some effective ways to begin your speech are:

  • Start at the ending.
  • Start and end with an appropriate quote.
  • Start by showing an object.
  • Start with a story.
  • Start with a surprising statement or action.
  • Start with an INappropriate quote and show them how it fits.
  • Start by asking a question.

But when doing these, think about your audience. What’s important to them? What issues are they dealing with? What worries them? What excites them? What’s their history?

For example, one person who is a successful writer startled the audience by stating that she’s a liar and has always been a liar. She then illustrated how these lies led her to her career storytelling and writing. The audience was hooked as soon as she introduced herself, calling herself a liar. They wanted to hear the story behind the statement!

Yes, you want to begin strong. But you also want to end strong. One of the best ways to end is to go back to the beginning. If you used a quote at the beginning, use a quote at the end - one that sums up what you’ve said. If you told a story, refer back to that story. If you used a prop, bring it out again.

But don’t forget to include a call for action if you are looking for one, or a summary of WIFM for the audience.

Whatever you do, DON’T conclude by saying, "That’s it!" or "Thank you."

To learn more about organizing a speech and improving your communication skills, check out Kennebecasis Toastmasters, the fun Toastmasters club. See you there!

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