The art of speaking to inform with impact

This post is part of a series of posts aimed at PMO professionals ahead of my keynote Public Speaking Demystified at the Future PMO Conference on October 17th in Hammersmith.

In earlier blog posts in this series, we covered the importance of basing your presentation around a single idea and additionally why you should be clear on what you want to achieve while you speak. Most professional presentations or speeches either seek to inform or persuade an audience. Every day, professors, project managers, and professionals in all industries speak to inform an audience. Every day, audiences sit through boring PowerPoint presentations, overly complicated speeches and quickly forget what they heard.

Speaking to inform is an art form but is relatively easy to master with a few simple techniques.

How will you inform?

This may sound like a strange question to ask yourself, but you can convey a message in many different ways. Even your technical presentation on a very specialist subject can include the following elements:

  • Facts and figures about the project, subject or concept you are talking on.
  • Live demonstrations of a process, system or concept that involves the audience.
  • Stories and anecdotes from end-users, the life the project or colleagues.
  • Questions directed at the audience to generate engagement and discussion.
  • Direct comparisons with other projects, technologies or subjects.

Which elements you’ll use will depend on how you decide to convey your message. Even then, if you only want to include facts and figures. Ask yourself how your audience will remember these long after you’ve spoken to them. This is crucial if the objective you set for your presentation to make an impact on your audience. Sometimes, people assume that every speech or presentation that incorporates humour is meant to be entertaining. This is a common misconception. Incorporating humour, engaging stories or anecdotes to flesh out factual information can be a very effective way of ensuring that it is remembered.

One of the best presentations I ever saw was about how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The speaker used a live demonstration, humour and even singing rhymes to illustrate each of his points. His objective was to inform me of the basics of CPR. Did he achieve this objective? Yes, as I still remember the presentation today.

The rule of 3

The impact of a presentation can be measured by how much content the audience remember afterward. A good adage in public speaking is that very often less is more. This is especially true if you are seeking to inform an audience in a business setting. Forget whatever temptation you may have to cram a large amount of information into your presentation. Instead, begin with a very clear structure in mind and have no more than 3 core points or arguments in your speech.

Why only 3 core points? Let’s have a look at geometry for a moment. If you only had 2 points, your presentation would be a seesaw, difficult to balance and prone to favouring one point over another. If you had 4 points, structuring it would become more difficult, especially under tight time constraints. Think of a 3 points presentation as a triangle. Only the strongest structures are made up of triangles and the strength of a triangle is proven by mathematics.

Most importantly, 3 core points are easier to remember than a much larger number of points. Of course, each of your core points may contain supporting arguments and sub-points. But remember the power of triangles and make sure that each sub points support and don’t detract from the main point.

Keep it simple

In today’s technological world, complexity is an increasing part of our day to day lives. Job titles and occupations reflect this. It is consequently far from unlikely that you will be presenting in front of an audience that’s unfamiliar with your topic. Even if your audience research indicates that the audience has some familiarity with your subject; don’t take it for granted. You will likely have to simplify your message and tone down any complexity or jargon. Fortunately, many techniques exist to do this.

Firstly, always use examples or stories to illustrate any technical points or items in your speech. Stories build human connection and emotions and facilitate memorisation of contents. Secondly, you can use analogies to illustrate concepts in ways that are more understandable to the audience. For example, a good analogy for the electrical distribution system is water going through pipes. One for a nuclear chain reaction are dominoes falling. JFK’s Moon speech used a great one towards the end “fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch”. Thirdly, you can use PowerPoint as what it was designed for, to produce amazing visuals that enhance understanding of a topic.

Lastly, remember that practice makes perfect when speaking. Speaking to inform is an art and art is only perfected through constant practice and careful experimentation.

Stay tuned for more blog posts ahead of next month’s event. I will be covering many techniques to craft pitch-perfect presentations during my keynote ‘Public Speaking Demystified’ on October 17. Why don’t you join me at FuturePMO 2019 – Book tickets now

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