Inspiring people with obvious insights

As a keynote speaker and a presentation coach, I’m dealing with ‘the spoken word’ on a daily basis.  Done right, a good presentation can change the world.   Or at least make a big difference.  We all know that.  The question is: what impacts the success of a presentation?  How do you create bookmarks in people’s brains?  How do you create a moment or an experience that they are unlikely to forget?  This question can invite many different answers.  If I have to single out one of them, I would say: be fascinating. 

Communication has not taken place when you have no impact on your audience.  Your influence during and after a presentation will be measured by your ability to fascinate.  The fascination of your audience for your message can be fueled by your passion.  Passion is undoubtedly the most compelling and irresistible emotion there is. 

Change your audience
Can you learn to be passionate?  That may be a difficult one.  However, you can learn how to communicate the passion you already have, by telling the best story you can tell.  We all know that humans are wired to listen to stories.  Ideas formulated through stories fascinate us.  Those stories give meaning to the facts, let your audience ‘feel’ your message and make them care about what you are saying. 

This is a crucial thing that I have learned in the past 20 years: if you want people to act after your presentation, you must make them feel something by taking them on a journey.  By inviting them to see the world differently afterwards.  “Changing your audience” should be the ultimate mission of every presentation you give (and you have the most impact when you change how they feel).  Too many speakers just share information.  However, a presentation is not the best format to just share information.  E-mail is better.

So focus on the impact of what you are explaining (the impact of your strategy, your idea, your product, your service, etc.).  Do so because your audience don’t buy your results. They buy the story about the difference those results will make. 

Include story gaps
When telling your story, also include so-called “story gaps”.  Remember that your audience is intelligent. So let people figure some things out for themselves. Let them draw their own conclusions.  Do not always reveal too much.  Create story gaps and let people fill them.  It adds magnetism to yourself and to your message and it motivates people to keep on listening.

Noise kills ideas
When bringing your story, always uncover the essence that is relevant for your audience.  Too many messages are commoditized by irrelevant information.  However, deleting the obvious is not always easy.  Take this example.  During most of history, when people thought of flight, they thought it was for the birds. And when we visualize flying birds, we see flapping wings. But flapping is not the essence of flight. It’s the gentle curve of the top of the wing that matters: the air traveling faster over that curved top creates lift. That curve is the essential feature that generates the lift for birds and the lift for planes. Ignoring the flapping is incredibly difficult, because it’s the most conspicuous, loudest, and most obvious feature of birds in flight.

Similarly, ignoring the obvious in communication is not always an easy game.  But it is a must if you want to fascinate.  Forget all info that is too obvious or not crucial and focus on uncovering the essence.  Whenever you give a presentation, just ask yourself this question: what is my Big Idea?  What is the one thing that I want people to remember (or to do) after my presentation?  All the rest is noise.  Avoid it.  Noise has killed too many messages and ideas.  Noise is not fascinating. 

Create a fascinating symphony
Technically speaking, music and noise are similar. Both are created by traveling sound waves that rattle our eardrums. Music, however, is noise that has been submitted to certain rules that allow the brain to engage on a different level.  If I played you a recording of birds chirping and children laughing, you would not remember those sounds the next day. But if I played you a Beatles song, you would likely be humming it for a week. 

So the point is this: pay attention to how you sound and recognize that people will instinctively react to the delivery of your message before they hear its content.   Use your voice in a fascinating way, by constantly changing volume, intonation, speed and rhythme.  And while doing so, always give people the feeling: I’m talking to you.  In other words: speak to one person.  Clever eye communication, for instance, can offer each and everyone a more individual experience. 

As a conclusion, let me repeat myself: communication has not taken place when you have no impact on your audience.  Your influence during and after a presentation will simply be measured by your ability to fascinate.  Be fascinating.  Your audience will thank you for that.