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WINNING, Incorporated | Boston, Massachusetts

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When you first open your mouth to speak to a group, audience members want to know two things:

They are curious about the journey they'll be taking with you, and they want to be assured that they will receive value during the presentation.

At any given point in the presentation they also want to know where they're going and where they've been. Make sure you never get The Christopher Columbus Award for Presentations - given to the speaker who leaves not knowing where he's going, returns not knowing where he's been, and takes a lot of other people's time getting there. Here are a few general guidelines to follow:

First, announce your speech purpose. Your purpose or reason for speaking determines the goals you target, the approach you take and the materials and content you will select to communicate to the audience. Describe where you want your audience to be when you're through. ("Today we're going to see a plan for a dramatic improvement in the profitability of your east coast operation . . . ") The statement of purpose should include some revelation of the benefits of your purpose (" . . . improvement in profitability").

Second, reveal the main points you'll cover. ("We'll outline three specific profitability initiatives: first, a revolutionary employee development process sure to win the loyalty of your people; second, a proven quality improvement program that will pump up productivity; and third, a fresh approach to marketing that we estimate will triple sales in just two years.") Keep these main points in front of your audience by putting them on an overhead, a flip chart, or a handout. This gives them the road map they'll need to negotiate your presentation and get the most out of it.

Try to limit your main points to three to five issues.

There are several reasons to structure your presentation this way:

  • Most people can remember no more than about five central ideas on a given topic.
  • Unless you are decisive and clear about the main points you want to make, you are likely to seem disorganized or unfocused.
  • Failure to identify your main points leaves you open to forgetting important ideas you need to express.
  • In order to choose the right supporting material, statistics, quotations, audiovisual, etc., you must know what major images you want to burn into the brains of your audience.

The outline you create of your presentation will eventually become the notes you'll use to deliver your presentation, so think ahead when planning. Business presentations are always made to bring about a new condition - one that would not exist in the absence of your presentation.


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