Way back in 2000, I partnered up with a speaker in Dallas who had acquired a big contract to do leadership training for a national trade association. It was a big break for me, because, although I had done pretty well in my first few years as a speaker, clients were still hard to come by, back then. When he and I first talked, he mentioned that he had written a public speaking book that was in the final stages of editing. Being a pretty good content designer, myself, I built an entire presentation class that would compliment this book. From time to time, I’d ask him about the book, and he’d always respond by telling me, “It’s almost ready.”
After two years of delay, I finally realized that his book was never going to be finished. Since we had been promising the book to clients for a couple years, I decided to write the book myself. From my perspective, whether you are communicating via the spoken word or via written text, the goal is still the same. You want to communicate important ideas in such a way that your audience (or readers) can retain the information, and you also have to make that communication somewhat entertaining so that your listeners (or readers) continue to pay attention. So, out of necessity, I sat down at my computer, and I wrote the book Fearless Presentations. The whole process from start to finish took me less than three weeks. (And the only reason that it took me that long was that I type really slow.) This episode will explain the step-by-step process that I went through, and how you can use the same process to create unlimited content for motivational speeches, keynotes, and blog posts.
Identify a Specific Challenge that You Can Help Your Audience Fix
“Inside of every problem lies an opportunity.” — Robert Kiyosaki, Author Rich Dad Poor Dad
The most important starting point in designing content is to identify what the audience really wants or needs to know. It does you no good to design great content if no one cares about it. I’m a big fan of the hit TV Show, Shark Tank. Every season, there will be quite a few products or services pitched on the show by guests who have forgotten about this important first step. Linda Holmes highlighted a few of these in her article Step Right Up published on NPR. Among these silly products are the following.
- Pajamas for toddlers with tog-toy squeaker in the knees. Although the sound might be a great way to keep tabs on your newly mobile baby, I suspect that most parents would go nuts from the constant squeak, squeak, squeak all the time.
- Another pitch was a service that will send you FedEx tags for your luggage so you don’t have to pay airline bag fees when you travel. Forget that you have to plan ahead so that they can send you the tags, then you have to drop of your luggage at a Kinko’s on the way to the airport, and, oh, by the way, you’d pay about $90 per bag. That is a service that no traveler can live without.
- One of the most offensive products in the list was the UroClub. This is a golf club that allows a male golfer to relieve himself on the golf-course without having to interrupt the game by finding one of those inconvenient bathrooms. I have added the actual, real-life commercial. (*** If you are easily offended, DON’T watch the video.)
The point is that the one thing that each of these entrepreneurs forgot was that in order for a product, a service, or an idea to be popular, it has to solve a need of the customer. So, how do I find these challenges?
Simple Ways to Identify Client or Customer Challenges
I’ve added a few simple ways to identify specific challenges that your customers or potential customers might be experiencing.
- ASK THEM! When you interact with a customer or client, ask them what keeps them up at night. If you have a good relationship with them, they will likely tell you.
- Ask Your Sales Reps. Have your salespeople make a list of the most frequently asked questions that they get from their customers or potential customers. What are those questions that they answer over and over again on calls and in meetings?
- Look at the Comments in Your Social Media Posts. Encourage your social followers to give you feedback, and they will often give you great ideas for topics and content.
- Look at Your Competitors’ Websites, Blog Posts, and Social Media Feeds.
- If You are Giving Speeches and Presentations, Add a Question and Answer Session to the Agenda.
- The Simplest Way, though, is to Just Put Yourself into the Shoes of the Audience Member.
When I first started writing the book, Fearless Presentations, I didn’t have a lot of time to do a bunch of market research. So, I just tried to picture myself as a person who was struggling with stage fright. (That wasn’t hard to do, because I had been that person just a decade before that moment.) I made a list of all of the different things that this person might be struggling with. Once I had the list, I had all of the chapters of the book.
Don’t Try to Reinvent the Wheel. Look for Research from Other Experts
In the past, as a speaker, I really downplayed the value of statistics and quotes from other experts. The reason that I downplayed these two pieces of evidence, though, was because I’ve been around the block enough to know that you can find statistics that will verify just about any idea on the planet. However, in recent years, I’ve come to rely on both of these types of evidence more heavily than ever before.
In the Fearless Presentations book, I referenced a study by Cordell & Cordell where they found that over 50% of court cases utilize an expert in some capacity. This was an important point, because if a person in a lawsuit could get an unbiased third-party who was also considered to be an expert in the field to verify what he or she was claiming, then it was easier for a jury to agree with the person as well. You can use the same type of evidence in your speeches and blog posts. Quote an expert or Google statistics related to your topic.
One of the things that we did early on in our class was to have each participant complete a pre and an post class survey. We kept very precise statistics about what people who came to the class said that they wanted before they took the class, and we also kept track of the results that they reported to us after the class. Over 3500 graduates complete both surveys in the first few years of the class, and 100% of the participants reported that they both got their money’s worth from the class and that they’d be comfortable referring a friend to the class. That statistic was fantastic proof to prospective class members who wanted to know if the class would work for them. Interestingly, though, in 2007, we got our first “No” on one of the surveys. We were shocked, because it had never happened before. We had to update the statistic on our website from 100% to a measly 99.97%. That year, the number of participants who took the class almost doubled, though. (I guess 99.97% was more realistic than 100%.)
Today, these statistics are a lot easier to come by. For instance, in the last couple of years, we have added a online survey where customers can give comments and rate the class. So, now people can actually go in and see the actual reviews that created the statistic.
How Les Brown Taught Me Sprinkle Quotes from Experts into My Presentations
After being in the speaking business for almost two decades, I kept getting up-and-coming young motivational speakers coming through my classes and/or applying for teaching positions with my company. They would often ask me how to design a good keynote or motivational speech. At the time, I had done quite a few motivational keynote speeches, but that wasn’t really how I made a living. So, I really didn’t have an answer for them. As a result, I went back and studied some of the inspirational speakers who motivated me. I found a couple of interesting patterns. Zig Ziglar and Paul Harvey were two of the most fantastic story tellers in the modern era. I think that their ability to captivate audiences with detailed stories made them two of the most sought after speakers in 1970’s and 1980’s. Another one of my heroes, Brian Tracy, has a way of taking stories and mixing in analogies and metaphors (we’ll cover that later) as a way of dramatizing his presentation.
One of my favorite motivational speakers, though, is Les Brown. Les Brown has a contagious enthusiasm that gets audiences moving. So, I went back and dissected his style of presenting. One of the things that I noticed that he does in his speeches is to make a motivational quote of his own as a teaching point, and then quickly quote an expert to reinforce it. In one of his keynotes, Brown said that if you want to be successful, you have to “Take Full Responsibility for Your Life.” He then quickly quoted George Bernard Shaw saying, “The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” Those short, and easy to remember quotes can add some credibility to your content. So, don’t make my mistake and underestimate their value.
Add an Example or a Story to Explain Your Content More Easily
”If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” – Rudyard Kipling
When I was in college studying business, my dad invited me to a business conference in Ft. Worth that had a dozen or so motivational speakers and entrepreneurs presenting. I was mesmerized by the wealth that was on stage. Each presenter got up, spoke for 45 minutes to an hour on a specific business topic, and I was taking all the notes that I could muster. This was pre-PowerPoint days, so the speakers had visual aids that were displayed on the huge TV screens in the rafters of the coliseum. About half-way through the second morning, though, during on e of the short breaks, the audio-visual guys removed the lectern that had been the customary presentation area for all of the speakers so far. The next presenter walked up the stairs with just a handheld microphone. He was a pastor by trade, but had become very popular as a motivational speaker as well. He had no visual aids. However, he painted a picture in the minds of the audience as he walked back and forth across the stage reinforcing his points with story after story from personal experience.
As the conference ended, I asked some of the attendees who I had met that week which of the speakers they thought did the best job. Five of the six people that I asked said that it was the pastor who they remembered most. In fact, many of them were able to recall specific concepts from the speech. Keep in mind that over the three days, we heard from some very powerful and famous speakers. But this Southern pastor was the one that everyone remembered. Now, years later, I know why. It was because he made a personal connection with his audience by relaying stories and examples. You can too. Creating your presentation outline is like creating a sketch or looking at a black and white photo. When you go back and start adding in stories and examples, though, that is when the photo comes into color. Stories add flavor to your presentation.
I was at a mastermind group in 2009 with a bunch of other professional speakers. One of our group was telling us about how he liked to always give his audience more than he promised, so he always covered more content than was in his agenda. One of the other speakers rebuked him by saying, “I hate to break this to you man, but no one in your audience cares about that extra content if you never show them how to use it.” We were all a little taken back by the criticism until he continued, “It’s not your content that makes you different than everyone else in this room. It’s your story. If you sacrifice your story to add more content, then the audience will remember neither.”
Amen! Add great stories to your content, and your audience will remember both.
Dramatize Your Content with a Fun Analogy or Metaphor
“One good analogy is worth three hours discussion.” — Dudley Field Malone
On the website Better Explained.com, an article about analogies reads… “Analogies are handles to grasp a larger, more slippery idea. They’re a raft to cross a river, and can be abandoned once on the other side. Unempathetic experts may think the raft is useless, since they no longer use it, or perhaps they were such marvelous swimmers it was never needed!”
(As you can see, the author of the post is using analogies to explain what analogies actually do for speakers.)
We often think of a speech or a blog post or a presentation as just a long series of related ideas. When we think this way, though, we miss that the best communication is that that makes a connection with us. The reason that analogies and metaphors work so well is that these literary devices help our brains make a connection between the new information that is being presented and something from our past that is more familiar.
If you use analogies well, your audience or reader will better understand your content. Below are a few of my favorite analogies, because they help the listener make an emotional connection to content.
- “Anyone finding a pocket watch in a field will recognize that it was designed intelligently; living beings are similarly complex, and must be the work of an intelligent designer.” — William Paley
- “A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.” — Winston Churchill
- “Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better, but the frog dies in the process.” –E. B. White
- “You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat.” -― Albert Einstein
The nice thing about analogies is that, you can use them as a way to add a little humor to your presentation as well. And if you use analogies and metaphors effectively, you will make an emotional connection to your audience.
Memorable Examples from Classes
Over the years, I’ve had a few class members who really nailed the beauty and effectiveness of analogies. Here are a few examples that I remember.
- Having both departments working separately on the same project is like sharing a checking account with your boyfriend. Unless one party takes responsibility for documenting all of the transactions, your going to end up with an overdrawn account.
- Saving for your retirement is like planting a tree. The earlier that you start, the bigger it be when you need it.
- After telling a story about how a miscommunication between a foreman and a crane operator that almost killed a worker, the class member referred to a Yosemite Sam cartoon where Sam was riding a camel that wouldn’t stop. Sam was yelling, “Whoa, Camel, whoa!” but the camel wouln’t stop. Finally, Yosemite Sam bangs the camel over the head with his rife and says, “When I say whoa, I mean whoa.” The class member finished by saying, “We shouldn’t have to bludgeon our operators over the head to get them to stop for safety.”
Use an analogy to reinforce your stories!
Use This Step-by-Step Process to Create Content
If you want to design great content for your blog posts, motivational speeches, or keynote addresses, start by determining what your audience wants, look for experts who back up your ideas, add real-life stories and examples, and then sprinkle in some analogies to dramatize your content. Do this, and you will have an unlimited supply of content for your blog or presentations.