I received a LinkedIn introduction from the president of a presentation coaching firm whom I’ve never met. He wanted to know if I had any important talks coming up that I wanted him to help me with. After all he shared, he’s spent 29 years working with leaders at major worldwide companies and his specialty is helping professionals like me become better presenters. He said he’s written a lot of articles that would help me better connect with my audience.
It sounded familiar. Oh wait, that’s exactly what our firm does!
Any good communications coach understands the first step to connecting with your audience is to understand who you’re talking to or in this case who you’re emailing. Before you ever pick up a pen, tap your keyboard, pitch business or create a slide, you need to ask three simple questions:
- Who am I talking to?
- What do they care about?
- How can I frame my message to address their concerns?
Then and only then will your presentation become listener-focused; making it about them and not about you.
Surprisingly even the most seasoned leaders struggle with this concept. Recently, I received a call from a CEO who said his company has gone through some turbulent times and employees were feeling a bit unsettled. I asked if he had addressed them to which he said he had not, but he was planning an upcoming employee meeting and wanted to bring in a professional speaker. He asked me if I was interested. I asked him what he hoped to accomplish.
He said he wanted to tell employees exactly what was happening at the company, what they should expect in the year ahead and how they would be affected by the changes. As much as I like to speak at organizations, I suggested that as head honcho, the information should come from him, not a professional speaker. Mulling it over, he admitted he’s not a great speaker. So I suggested some coaching which he declined, reminding me there are two types of communicators.
- Those who think they communicate well enough.
- Those who constantly want to improve no matter how good they become.
The second group views communications as a lifelong learning program. Great speakers like the late Steve Jobs, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton or Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos are clearly part of group two. They make even the toughest speaking engagement look easy and effortless even though it’s taken a lifetime of practice.
Before becoming president, Reagan was an accomplished actor who spent years practicing lines, timing and delivery. He also benefited from professional coaching to help him project a strong presence.
Admired communicator Clinton actually bombed giving a speech at the 1988 Democratic national convention. It was that rambling event that propelled him to make improving his communication skills a top priority.
From slides to words, the Jobs, co-founder of Apple, was a master at sounding like he was speaking off the cuff. In reality, Jobs practiced for months leading up to a big presentation, which is what made it look effortless.
Like many savvy presenters, Bezos is big on images and light on text forcing him to talk, not read. When Bezos unveiled Kindle Fire he rehearsed, like Jobs, until his remarks appeared natural.
How can you be a little bit more like these admired communicators when you have to give an important talk?
- Have an objective. What do you want listeners to know, do or feel after you speak?
- Prepare early and practice out loud as often as possible.
- Draw on stories from everyday experiences to engage listeners and reinforce messages that are relevant to them.
- Frame what you want to say from their perspective by using examples that help them understand how they can benefit from or use the information?
- If you want your audience to be excited, then you must be excited. Speak with passion, purpose and conviction.
Finally, realize that the secret to being a good communicator begins with desire. Steve Jobs often talked about simplicity and said: “Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.”
Those who strive to keep things simple and interesting for their audiences understand that great speakers are made not born and the most natural presenters are usually the most practiced.