3 Questions to ask while preparing speeches and presentations

Maybe you remember the scene from the 1980s movie Back to School. Professor Turguson, played by comedian Sam Kinison, hovers over Rodney Dangerfield’s character demanding an answer to his question by not-so-gentley shouting, “SAY IT! SAY IT!” How many speeches or presentations have you sat through where you wanted to shout, “SAY IT! SAY IT!” hoping the speaker would find his point?

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The problem with so many presentations and speeches is there is no clear target in mind. The result: related facts that don’t make a clear point. The speaker may know where he’s heading (or not), but too often he assumes the audience walks away having, “gotten it.” Unfortunately, audiences often walk away in a fog of confusion. There are universal fundamentals that should shape every speech or presentation and guide those related facts to a destination. I’ve asked myself the questions below in any executive speech I’ve authored or presentation I’ve prepared.

So, here are three questions to ask that will burn off the fog and increase the likelihood that you’re next speech or presentation will score a bullseye.

1. What’s my target?

Anytime anyone stands in front of a group of people there ought to be a purpose, right? However, we’ve all sat in audiences listening to presentations or speeches thinking, “This is an hour of my life I’ll never get back.” Why? Because the person presenting has no discernible idea what they want their outcome to be. Imagine walking to an archery range with bow and arrows but no targets. You’d fire arrows in every direction but never hit anything that mattered. But what’s the goal of archery; to fire arrows or hit targets? Many speakers do the same. They fire facts and don’t hit anything that matters. Define your target.

2. What do I need to say?

There is a broad variety of arrows that can be shot at targets. For instance, you wouldn’t use a target arrow to go bow hunting for deer. Unfortunately, presenters and speakers too often grab a bunch of facts like random arrows and load them into their presentations and scripts. It may sound good and be passionately presented, but there is no refinement of ideas to the point of clarity. Unless intentional thought is given to developing specific supporting points, a fog settles over the audience. And sometimes, deciding what not to say is as important as what you include.  Define your target; select the content that hits the target.

3. Have I said what I needed to say?

Ask this question after you develop your presentation or speech but before you actually give them. Finish your preparation then have an out of body experience, meaning, get beyond authorship of your content and look at it with an objective, critical eye. Be your own Devil’s Advocate. Challenge your own assumptions. Ask the hard questions a critic (or a boss, or potential client, etc.) will ask and make sure you account for these before they can ask them. Evaluate what you’ve said in relation to the target you set. Have you said what you needed to say to hit that target. Basically, did you select the correct arrows and did they score the desired outcome?

Even the most complex information can be orally communicated if there is an established target supported by well-organized, clearly stated content. Don’t be the person who provokes someone in their audience to stand up and shout, “SAY IT!”

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