Why do people make speeches?
To pitch something. To get something done. To get an agreement.
The oft quoted speeches by Martin Luther King, Mark Antony or Abraham Lincoln, held you captive with three things: prose, pace and promise. The greatest speakers infused words with imagery and passion so you painted your own version of an ideal future. The greatest speakers brought you to the edge but it was always your choice to jump. The greatest speakers did all this without PowerPoint. Hell, most of them did it without electricity.
So why do you need PowerPoint? The most common answer is “A picture is worth a thousand words”. The right picture is worth a thousand words. The wrong picture is going take a thousand extra words to explain. This is not a revelation. There is nothing new in public speaking and presenting today that wasn’t effective back when the disciples of various faiths searched for new converts. Present a point. Provide some sort of support. Shave some heads (or whatever ritual symbolized a ‘buy’ decision for the newly faithful.)
So if that’s the case, why are there still terrible pitches?
My view is people haven’t bothered to access any of the thousands of blogs, books, videos and training courses available to them. Because if they did, they would realize that every single resource out there say the same thing. Every single coach or workshop will have the same message, no matter how the workshop is packaged and marketed.
- To sell is to present persuasively.
- To present persuasively is to know your audience.
- To know your audience is to research your ass off.
Unfortunately, there’s a bit that’s often left out: To waste your research is to jam everything you know into a PowerPoint presentation.
People start a presentation or a pitch with PowerPoint in mind. That’s bad. They’re thinking about the imagery to use so they can be lazy with their prose. Starting a presentation with PowerPoint in mind says “This is what I want to show the listener“.
Start instead with “What does the listener need to see?” coupled with “Will this make him move towards an agreement?” and feel the difference.
MLK told us about the mountaintop and we saw it in our heads. Listen to his speech again. Listen to his speech and realize how much weaker it would have been if he provided pictures. Reality rarely beats imagination.
If you are working on a presentation right now, look at each picture, chart or table. Is it self explanatory? If not, ditch it or move it to the handout. Look at each slide. Will it move the audience closer to ‘buying’ your point? If not, ditch it. Now see what’s left. Do you even need the Power Point presentation or can you sell the deal with words, enthusiasm and authenticity?
Buyers and financiers make their decisions based on three things: A) Do they even need this? B) Does it fit their parameters? C) Do they believe you can make it happen?
You shouldn’t even be wasting their time if A) and B) are not researched. If A) and B) were thoroughly researched and validated, it will be obvious in the first 3 minutes. The rest of the time is selling C).
Here are my 5 habits to selling C).
- Start with the speech. Don’t think in terms of slides. Think in terms of a narrative. If you have 20 minutes, create a 10 minute speech.
- See and hear yourself as the listener. Does it matter to the listener? It’s not why you have to sell, it’s why they want to buy.
- Spend as much time as necessary practicing and destroying your assumptions and arguments. This is where coaches are invaluable. How much time should you spend? How badly do you want this?
- Kill exaggerated claims. It’s embarrassing for everybody in the room to see you squirm when challenged.
- Remember how you felt in school just before an exam? The anxiousness and the need to study just a bit more despite knowing all the material inside out? This is anxious anticipation. This is fantastic, productive energy. This is the twinkle in your eye. Without it, you’re just a guy talking. With it, you’re a guy pitching.
Go close the next one.