Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Most Boring Speaking Advice in the World

If you've been in a speaking class, a training room, a Toastmasters club, or even worked with many speaking coach, you've heard the following advice:

Tell them what you're going to tell them.
Tell them.
Then Tell them what you've told them.

Makes sense, right? Repetition is good, isn't it? Prepare your audience, educate your audience, then make sure they've got it - and got it good. Indeed, this advice is as old as Plato and Socrates, and probably goes back to the age of cavemen.

It's not the worst advice in the world, especially if you're a trainer, teacher, or drill sergeant. In fact, the military uses this method to repeatedly reinforce orders to its ranks. Certainly, if you're a new speaker, it's a competent way to structure your speech, and helps both you and your audience stay on track.

It's also BORING. Predictable. Easy to tune out. Potentially condescending to your audience, for whom the need for repetition has been replaced by the need for new information every 7-10 minutes, thanks to today's steady stream of media and information overload.

Which is why I say you should IGNORE it - at least in it's most rigid sense. Telling them three times is fine, as long as you do it in very different ways each time, and change the way you deliver the goods. What to do instead? Well, there are plenty of options, actually. I'll start with my favorite keynote outline, from Judy Carter's 2013 book The Message of You:

Start with a Hook - something related either to your point, your audiences self-interest, or otherwise builds a connection with the audience. Stories, controversial statements backed up by evidence, or even a question followed by a scenario are three easy bets to bring your audience into your speech without immediately 'telling them what you're going to tell them'.

Then go into a Premise. Their pain, their problem, their situation in need of fixing. The 'why', not 'what' of what you're going to speak about.

Throw in a dose of Credibility - how you can identify with their pain, either personally, or as an interested third party. The more they feel you're one of them, the more ready they'll be to to listen.

Then get into your Promise- the ultimate resolution that you're promising to tell them about. It's as close as you'll come to 'Telling Them What You're Going to Tell Them'. What you're actually doing is telling them three more important things first - why they should pay attention, why they need a solution, and that a solution exists.

Then you head into a Process - steps to solve their problem, followed by a personal story of how this process has worked for your or those around you. Then and only then do you get into 'reinforcement mode' and review what you've told them, before finally telling them the big, over-arcing point one last time.

This isn't your only option, of course. Depending on your situation, your outline can take many forms:

Cam Barber offers his own 'speech outline
generator' at his blog SpeechOutline.com.
Above, he chunks down Steve Jobs
Stanford commencement speech,
where Jobs doesn't fully tell them what
he wants to tell them until the very
end of the address.
Chronological - take the audience from beginning to end in order of events. Just be sure to cap off the ending with your take-home message.

Testimonial - a story that introduces and solves the problem in and of itself, allowing you to get your point across without hitting them over the head. Often, the heroic nature of the resolution in stories of this nature mean you don't wrap up at the end either, you just spin your tale, and let the conclusion sink into your audiences mind.

Anecdotal - perhaps you don't really even have a point to the speech other than to educate the audience or lift up an individual. Re-living stories makes for entertaining and honoring speeches, particularly if you're stuck in a classroom or at the long table of a wedding celebration.

Reverse-Engineered - Start with the ideal scenario, the fulfilled promise, then build the story of getting there.

I'm sure there are more, and if you can think of one, please add it in the comments below.

The right structure is key to your presentation's success, and regardless of which you choose, should always serve the audience's best interest, not your own. Getting them interested is key, which is why I, as a general rule, prefer starting by letting them know not WHAT I'm going to tell them, but WHY.

Each presentation is different, and each audience. I'm not saying NEVER to use the Tell Them What You're Going to Tell Them method, just that it isn't the end-all, may not be the most effective approach in every case, and could potentially be detrimental depending on the occasion.

Be creative, and then go Speak...& Deliver!

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