I once gave a speech about the two years I spent in Japan in my early twenties. Those two years were pretty special, and I set out to share with my audience my experience of living in that far off land.
Inspired by my memories, I carefully crafted my speech. I painted a vivid picture of beautiful natural landscapes and what it was like to be a gaijin (foreigner) in a small rural town on Japan’s southern tip.
I filled my speech with colourful anecdotes about cultural faux pas, and my attempts to converse in basic Japanese. I used a range of rhetorical devices to capture attention and help build the picture.
And yet I knew there was something missing. When I gave the speech, that feeling was confirmed. It felt superficial and flat. I said a lot, but it felt like I hadn’t said very much at all.
What was I trying to achieve? Did I want to convince people that Japan is a worthy holiday destination? Or make people laugh at my failed attempts to blend in?
No, I wanted to convey something deeper than that. The problem was, I didn’t know what.
What my speech was missing was a key message. One clear, concise idea that my audience would take away with them. The one thing I wanted them to remember, or do.
My speech was lacking a heart. And that’s why it fell flat. I wanted somehow to move people by my experience, but simply recounting my exploits wasn’t enough.
Putting the heart into business presentations
When you’re making a business presentation the stakes can be high, and having a clear key message is vital. Clarity and purpose come through organising your content around a core message. Yet it’s surprising just how many presentations are high on content – and low on clarity.
Think back to the last presentation you made. Was your key message clear? Did the audience get what you were saying?
Can I have more than one key message?
You can have secondary messages but only one key, standout message. The concept “key messages” is a contradiction in terms.
Some time ago I helped a client prepare a presentation to convince the company’s management to invest in a new production method. It was well-researched and had clear data to back it up. She also had creative ideas for the presentation, appropriate visuals and an original introduction.
But the presentation wandered from message to message, and by the end both the benefits of the proposal and the call to action were lost. She was trying to take her audience down several paths, and it didn’t work.
Her presentation needed a refocus. We went back to the beginning and redefined the purpose, the “why” behind the presentation – and from there came up with one key message on the return on investment the programme represented.
She delivered her presentation… and the proposal was approved.
To define a clear path for your audience to follow, try applying these tips to your next presentation:
- As a very first step, ask yourself why? Why are you presenting? Once that’s clear, identify the takeaway thought, or action you want your audience to take. The one thing you want them to remember, or do. Simple, specific and concise.
- Use your key message as a filter to reduce information overload. If something supports your key message, keep it in. If it doesn’t, take it out. And be ruthless about it.
- Repeat your message several times during your presentation. Near the beginning, at least once in the body, and again at the end.
Keep your key message at the top of your mind as you develop your presentation. Then place it at the top of your audience’s mind when you present.
What you have to say deserves to be remembered. A clear key message will ensure that it is.
If you want to put some heart into your next presentation, get in touch!
Image: Kelly Sikkema