Don't Do Dull-Speak: 12 Tips for a Blitz on Boring
Shockingly, the vast majority of people prefer interesting to boring. Who'd have guessed? And the principle applies in pitches and presentations.
We've all sat through talks that were Olympian accomplishments of mind-numbing banter. Some of us didn't make it out. Our next of kin had to be notified: "Sorry, ma'am. He was the victim of a series of unrelated bullet-points. There was nothing we could do for him."
To be persuasive, you have to be interesting. If they enjoy the experience of you, they will be more likely to hear you out. But what are the tools at your disposal? Here are 12 separate tactics from which you can choose, buffet-style, to invigorate your next presentation:
1. Tell stories. People think in terms of things that they can see, feel and vividly imagine. Stories bring points to life and are a communicator's best friend.
2. Use metaphors. Can you think of a unifying symbol - preferably something visual - that could become the central theme for your talk? Say it in a word picture. For instance, "We're not just here to sell you a product. We're here to pull your feet from the fire."
3. Use humour. The best kind of humour is natural, fits the topic, and takes only a few seconds to deliver. US President Barack Obama, while meeting with the Prime Minister of Great Britain, said, "And I'm sure the Prime Minister wouldn't disagree with me... at least not while I'm around... "
4. Use a problem/solution structure. Instead of beginning with 'what your product can do', create a short story that highlights and emotionalises the consequences of the problem it was designed to solve. Then, begin your pitch with the problem, and lead up to the solution. The technique is used often in infomercials: "Do you have a soft, flabby stomach? Do your neighbours run and hide every time you wobble by? You need new Flabaway!"
5. Move more. Movement attracts the eye and stimulates the mind. Be assured: if you stand still and simply deliver a talk verbally from one spot for thirty minutes, hands at your sides, your audience will lose interest. My rule of thumb: move when telling a story, stand still when delivering a point.
6. Vary your voice tone. You might still get away with standing still for a while, provided your voice tone varies continually. But you can never get away with a boring or monotonous voice tone, no matter how much you move. Use a private room to practice delivering sentences in interesting and expressive ways.
7. Use visuals. The human mind is stimulated by visuals. But make them interesting. A block of text on a PowerPoint slide is not interesting. Sidebar: It may actually explain the origins of the walking un-dead.
8. Use pictures and stories in place of dry numbers. Your objective as a speaker is not to impart information, but to help your audience to understand. Information is only half of the job. Understanding is the goal. From this point of view, it's futile for you to have all the numbers at your fingertips if you are not able to make them meaningful to your audience. Use pictures and stories that help your audience to understand what those numbers actually mean.
9. Use audience interaction. Simply ask questions: "By a show of hands, how many of you regularly work out?" Audience interaction creates emotional involvement. Just don't overdo it. Once or twice is enough.
10. Prizes and outright bribery. Don't knock it. You'd be surprised how well people listen when they know they can win something at the end by answering a question correctly, or by volunteering for something.
11. Warmth and charm. Smile and direct warmth and enthusiasm toward your audience. Human connection is the entire point of public speaking. If it weren't important, we'd simply send the information as an email.
12. Brevity. The ultimate tool. Short, sharp and to-the-point. Works every time.
Remember, as a presenter, you are not in the business of zombie-creation. Your goal is to engage and persuade and there is an array of tools at your disposal. Now go get 'em!