If you improve your storytelling, you can easily improve your stature as a speaker. In our technology-centered world, information moves very quickly. We are constantly bombarded with so much information that out of necessity, we disregard much of what we are exposed to. Psychologists fifty years ago determined that the average attention span of a person is just two-minutes.
Today, they say that the average attention span is just eight seconds. If you doubt their findings, listen to a headline news report on the radio or TV. Most of the news stories will be less than eight seconds in length, and those that are longer will often be broken up by sound bites that are, you guessed it, about eight seconds long.
Skip the Preamble. Jump Right into the Meat of Your Story.
Start Your Story with the Who, What, When, and Where.
My point is that if we want to gain and keep the attention of our audience, we only have a few seconds to do it. So rather than starting with a preamble such as, “My talk is about,” or “I’m going to tell you about,” just jump right in. Get their attention like a newspaper story or TV reporter would by giving the who, what, when, and where in the first couple of sentences.
If you are beginning with a story about a personal experience, then you might start with a sentence such as, “About two years ago, I was working on a similar project with Joe and Steve in Dallas…” That type of beginning gets people’s attention.
The “Who, What, When, Where” is a fast and easy way to get your audience’s attention quickly and to get the specifics of your talk out to your audience in a clear and concise manner. This type of introduction works extremely well, especially if you begin your speech with an anecdote or a personal story.
Start in the Middle of the Action-Packed Part of Your Story.
Another way of getting attention quickly is to start at the most impactful part of your report. Moviemakers have learned this lesson. If you watch a classic film, it will probably follow a timeline such as this where there is an introduction that slowly builds to a climax and then the movie ends in a conclusion that ties everything up in a nice little bow.
Movies today don’t have that luxury. If some type of action isn’t happening in the first few minutes, many moviegoers may get up to leave. The new timeline might look something like this.
We can use this same technique in our talks as well. We can start at the most impactful part of our report, and then fill in details later as we need to. For example, if we are leading a safety meeting, we might start with an opening like, “32 people lost a limb, 12 people were decapitated, and eight people died last year because they forgot to do one simple thing.” Or if we are giving a financial report, we might begin with, “We were $32,000 under budget this quarter and this is how we did it.”
Try to Paint a Mental Picture for the Audience. Focus on One Thing at a Time.
One thing that we have to remember as speakers is that we communicate in words, but our minds think in pictures. Therefore, even with as complicated and complex a machine as the human brain is, when we communicate, we need to focus on one specific point at a time.
Let me give you an example. Think about an elephant. What do you see in your mind? You have probably formed a picture in your mind of an elephant. You can see the trunk, the big ears, the leathery skin. Now think of the Statue of Liberty. What do you see in your mind now? Do you see the statue? Can you see the torch and the green discoloration of the copper? The big question, however, is where did the elephant go? Your picture of the Statue of Liberty probably replaced the picture of the elephant. When we know that this is how our mind works, then we can use it to our advantage when we speak.
The point is that when use stories in your presentation to reinforce points, try to focus on a single take-away from each story.
An old Chinese proverb says, “Man who chases after two rabbits catch none.” It’s the same with speaking. If we focus on one main item and support our idea with evidence, our audience is more likely to retain the information.
Remember that Your Conclusion Is Your Chance to Reinforce Main Items. Be Brief and Be Pointed.
End Your Story or Presentation with a Summary.
Whether you are in a meeting, or any presentation really, the whole reason for narrowing your points down to just a few points, is that this process makes the conclusion so much easier. If you do this your conclusion could be as simple as a summary. “So in summary, my main points were…” By doing your conclusion this way, you are refreshing the memory of your audience as well as tying a nice bow around the information you just presented to them.
Conclude Your Presentation by Asking the Audience a Call to Action.
Another option for your conclusion would be to ask your audience to take some type of action especially if you are trying to persuade your audience. Of course, when you ask them to take this action, it’s always a good idea to let them know how they will benefit from doing what you ask.
An example of this type of conclusion would be, “Based on what we’ve just covered, I’d ask you to…, and if you do that, then you will get…”
Whichever way you decide to conclude, prepare your final words in advance and be clear and concise. Limit your conclusion to just a couple of sentences and you will have great success.
The tips above are only valuable if you create the habit of using them on a consistent basis. The Fearless Presentations ® class is a step-by-step approach to consciously and consistently applying these and other presentation skills to reduce fear and nervousness. If you feel fear, nervousness, or anxiety when you speak, please take a look at attending one of our classes. We offer them every couple of months in major cities all over the world!