The process of distillation takes raw ingredients and boils them down to create an essence, an elixir of purity and strength. It takes those common elements and turns them into magic. Like the process of making a fine whisky, steamed water and grain results in quite a nice beverage. The same too applies to crafting a fine message that will stick in the memory of those that would hear it.
The biggest block to having a great presentation is having way too much information for your audience to swallow. You know all that you know and you want to impart all that great stuff onto your audience, but wait there’s more… and that’s the problem. People can only take in so much information at one time. If you have a very technical topic, choose just one portion of the process. You can spread your information out into several speeches, a great way to get invited back to speak! Distill your reams of knowledge into a fine crystal clear message.
There are several factors to consider when creating a speech. Audience, location, timing, technical options and venue, all of these elements need to be acknowledged when you prepare your talk. Sometime you could be on a roster of presenters. This creates a bit of competition, are you funny, or are you the boring one? Are you speaking last? First? There is a lot to consider and plan for as a presenter. Once you have figured out the positioning of your speech now work on the content.
Find out your timing parameters, it is important to know how long you are expected to speak. You want to shape your message to fit the timing. There is nothing worse than a speaker who is droning on and on while the audience considers pulling the fire alarms to get out of the building. Be respectful of those timing limits your organizer will be grateful and it is a courtesy to the other speakers.
Decide if your message really and truly needs a slide accompaniment. Using slides can be a crutch. Having so much material that YOU need the slides just to know what you wanted to say it a big telltale sign that you should not be using slides and should narrow your message. Your audience does not need you to read the slides to them. They can read it for themselves, and that is exactly what they are doing if you have a lot of text on your slides. People can either read or listen but they can do both simultaneously.
But wait you say, I NEED to have handouts! Ok fine, you can have detailed handouts or create a word document to send as a follow-up. Creating slides that are “eye-charts” with tons of bullet points is very passé and out of touch and downright punishing for your audience. 99.9% of the time you don’t need the slides. If you do have some image that really enhances the point you are making use it. You can add 1 or 2 words max 7. You get the point, clean, streamlined, and minimal that is the Zen of using slides. One more thing, never ever ever look back at the slides. Ever.
Start your speech with a BAM! Use an opener that really grabs attention, a question, or pose a ridiculous scenario, something that gets people involved in your speech at once. Your first words uttered must be gripping or you could lose the audience to their tweets and Instagram likes. The beginning of your speech is the outline of your talk. That means, tell the audience what you are going to talk about, tell them the points you will make and then you will go on to elaborate on those points. Create a tag line or sound bite that you want everyone to remember. Usually people only remember your opening or your close so spend a lot of time on creating a fabulous opening.
Now for the meat of the matter, the body of your speech, you have started with a BAM-opener that really gets attention. Next, you plan 3 points that will exemplify your message. Perhaps you have a great story that is slightly off point but really, really interesting? Save it for another speech. Surgically remove anything that is not related to your main message. Write your main message, your ‘take away’ and hold it up against all your points. If it dilutes, throw it out. If you have so much information, narrow it down to the 3 most important points. Your message needs to stay pure and strong. Repeating the message in different ways will enhance its strength. Flow through your points with good transitions and prepare for the closing. Use that magic rule f 3, you can always use less but use no more than 3.
The number one mistake many speakers make is to thank their audience. This is because their ending is weak, or they ran out of time or they really don’t understand how to close. It’s like sales, closing the deal is as important as starting the deal. Speakers use ‘thank you’ to signal the audience that they are done speaking, a lackluster and a wasted opportunity for a call to action. Your close should be clear that you are ending, use tone and tempo, bringing your voice down and slowing the speed. Try not to use a crutch line like “in closing” although there is usually a giant sigh of relief when some speakers say this but to the dismay of all listening they continue on for another 10 minutes. Re-use that awesome tag line you started with, giving your speech amazing continuity and gelling your concept.
Let’s look at some exceptions to these rules. Thanking the audience, if you are getting an award or are in some kind of event where you are introduced and exchanging at the lectern then you do ‘thank’. This means you are walking up to the microphone and shaking hands and the other speaker sits down. You begin by thanking the person who introduced you, then mention the highest ranking dignitary, so on and so forth. There are diplomatic protocols to follow and like traffic regulations it just keeps things orderly and neat. By following this technique you will look and sound professional, cool and collected and that my friend is pure confidence.
What about timing snafu’s? You were asked to speak for 30 minutes but the speakers in front of you ran over their times and the host did not cull this behavior so now they ask that you cut your speech down to get back on schedule. How do you cut your speech in no time flat? You still have your amazing open, you outline your 3 points and say, I will cover just the first point tonight, have me back to hear the rest. Then finish with your close. You could also create an abbreviated version of each point. But you get the gist of how organization, clarity and confidence can help you to create a great message. No need to get all flustered you have everything under control.
The dreaded word every speaker fears, memorization. Nope. You do not have to memorize your speech. You need to know your stuff forward and backward. Learn your open and close so that they roll off your tongue at a party when you are describing what you do. Those 3 points… outline them and flesh them out but kind of learn them as modular pieces. That you can talk about out of order. Then like building blocks you stack your speech, open, point 1, point 2, point 3, close. You can find so cool transitions that suit the message. This is not rote memorization it is organizing your thoughts into a logical order. Planning and preparation are what makes Olympian feats look simple. Professionals prepare for all manner of unexpected challenges. Knowing your speech inside and out is like knowing how to ski. You can adapt to changes in the environment because ultimately you are fully prepared.
Preparation is also a key to confidence, not too many things can rattle you if you are prepared. Take your message and distill it down to a clean smooth presentation. You are ready to hit any stage at any time. You can zig and zag giving a 5 minute or 1 hour version. Once you have created the framework you have the recipe to create the best presentation you can. Go now, collect the raw ingredients and begin the process of distillation to create your finest message.