I always thought that my communication needed more work. Every night, lying in bed, I reflected over the day and the words I said. Could I have done better? Could I have been more effective in communication? What could I improve on the presentation done that day? So this particular book is one of the go to for me in that respect.
Presentations used to freak me out. Whenever you’ve been nervous before a presentation, how many people told you to imagine your audience in their underwear?Plenty, right? But this is terrible advice! It will only distract you from the task at hand – focusing on conveying your message effectively. Yet this is not the only popular-yet-ill-advised technique out there. There are, in fact, many that will hinder you from getting your message across to an audience or individual.
First realised that in many situations, you have just one chance to deliver the right message. Whether in your professional or home life, there are moments when you need to be pitch perfect: to use the right tone to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time. There are only a few moments in your career which determine whether or not you impress your superiors and thus climb the corporate ladder.
For example, imagine your boss asks for your opinion regarding any internal obstacles to the company’s growth. On the one hand, if you’re hesitant to express your opinion, and you avoid direct eye contact, you’ll lose your chance to demonstrate your knowledge. On the other hand, if you speak bluntly and reveal that the weak structure of the business itself is threatening its growth, then you could offend your boss. Either way, you can kiss that promotion goodbye! Indeed, one study found that a main obstacle to promotion is poor communication skills. This includes racist comments, offensive jokes, crying, cursing, avoiding eye contact, and other mishaps.
So start by preparing. Think through what you want to deliver and start with a concise, compelling statement to make listeners want to know more. Whenever you’re giving a presentation or starting up a conversation, do you sense that you could lose your audience at any moment? Guess what? You’re right.
Clearly you want to avoid such a situation. But how?
First, it’s crucial that you avoid talking about your agenda beforehand. Instead, you should dive right in and get started on the presentation proper. If you spend the first minute talking about what you’re going to say, you’ll sound just like every other speaker, and your audience will assume you have nothing new to say. For this reason, it’s best to begin a presentation with your first argument, or with a brief, attention-grabbing story that fits your message.
Which bring us to the second point: your opener must be effective, which means that you should put your most compelling material right up front.
Of course, there’s no recipe for the perfect opener, but they tend to be short, suspenseful, and most importantly, surprising. To hook your audience, you could start with a story or a provocative statement or question. Or you could do something unexpected.
Finally, you should test out your presentation in a low-stakes situation. This kind of low-pressure environment might be the dinner table with friends (not co-workers) or your teenage children. Can you hold their attention? Or are they slouched over their smartphones?
Use visual images to illustrate a story and keep listeners hanging on every detail. Whether you’re giving a presentation or participating in a conversation, you can make what you say far more vivid by using some simple storytelling techniques. We are all storytellers and the good news is that the more we practice, the better we get.
If you are delivering a numbers oriented presentation, you got a problem. Turning stats and numerical data into easily grasped images is challenging, so if you find you cannot accomplish this, try instead to use analogies. By using analogies you can emphasize what those statistics actually mean to you, and your audience can put that into a certain context.
Of course, capturing an audience is not only about what you say; it’s also about how you say it. You have several tools at your disposal here: you could vary your pitch, pace and projection in order to get a key point to stick in your audience’s mind.
Boil down your argument to its key message to make it as rich and brief as possible.
Whether it’s because they want to appear smart, drive home a point or simply have poor planning skills, many people talk for way too long. Unfortunately, these people just won’t succeed in getting their message across.
If you’re one of these people, you should instead adopt the “pasta-sauce principle”: try to boil your argument down until the message is rich and brief. This is a useful principle because most people’s attention span is very short. Indeed, one study revealed that when people are listening to speeches, they tend to be receptive for just 18 minutes, max. So if your audience is capable of digesting only small pieces of information, it’s counterproductive to overfeed them with an XXL portion.
It’s for this very reason that Twitter has become so successful: in a world where information overwhelms us, a Tweet delivers a single, concise, focused message. Indeed, by comparison, even an email or blog post can seem too long.
One way to ensure your presentation is not too long is to develop decisive openers and endings, as this will afford you a certain flexibility. So practice both your start and finish, and learn them by heart. This will help to calm your nerves and build your confidence. It will also ensure that you know exactly what constitutes your main message, and how you want to close it. Also, decisive openers and endings enable you to expand or shrink the main part of your presentation to be flexible to time constraints.
Another way to keep things short is to ensure you avoid recapping your presentation at the end. When you begin to repeat to your audience what they have just heard, they will easily become distracted and stop paying attention. Instead, at the end, you could offer your audience pertinent advice. This might involve suggesting ways for them to apply the information you’ve given them to their actual, individual lives.
Slow down when you’re uncertain about your next sentence. Many people say what they are thinking, exactly as they’re thinking it. This means that they often speak very rapidly. However, it is much better to think before speaking, because every mistake that escapes your mouth cannot be taken back. But why is it that people speak rapidly and at length?
We tend to speak for longer, and at a faster pace, when we are defensive or anxious. Some people believe they sound more convincing when they do this, when in fact they come across as uncertain and neurotic. One reason for this behavior is that, when people are tense and nervous, their thoughts accelerate, sending them into overdrive. And when you speak too fast and for too long you sometimes say things that can damage your reputation.
There are more interesting nuggets of information and advice within the book. So highly recommended for those who want to get that message across clearly.
Check the book out on Amazon: Pitch Perfect: How to Say It Right the First Time, Every Time