Years ago I read a book by James Robinson, Winning Them Over: Get Your Message Across by Dealing Successfully with the Media_. Robinson explains how to effectively convey ideas to not just the media, but live audiences as well. He gives us an important list of steps that I have used and feel are important for any communicator, even writers. I’ve added some commentary to the steps:
- Speak with a strategy. There’s nothing worse than a speech with no premise. Most often they turn into rambling messes. As you are planning your speech, ask yourself what you want the listener, or, reader if you write more than speak, to know or do? What is their take away? It’s important to develop strategy that gives them value. It’s not about you.
- Spy on the audience and setting. One of my most embarrassing moments as a speaker came when I was asked to do an all-day training session for retailers. I didn’t take the time to spy on my audience and I didn’t pay attention to the setting. My second session was on direct marketing and the importance of getting, keeping and marketing directly to your customers via email. When the session finished I felt the audience didn’t understand my strategy. One brave man came forward and told me the truth, “You see, we didn’t react because your in Mennonite/Amish country and most of us don’t have computers.” Yikes. Always know your audience and the setting. Always.
- Always write it—never wing it. I know what you are thinking, but don’t even go there. In High School I finished in the top ten extemporaneous speakers category and I still write my speeches or at least have a substantial outline. Remember point #1 and remember that you want excellence for every audience. A good part of excellence comes with preparation and forethought.
- Keep it brief. Enough said.
- Simplify your speech. Twelve point outlines won’t work. People are busy, they are well informed. Unless you’re speaking to nuclear physicists keep it simple, keep it understandable, memorable and remarkable.
- Add humor. A funny thing happened on way here tonight. . . Humor makes you human, gives you breaks in your speech, and is part of any good speaker’s rhythm. The caveat is don’t point the finger at them—keep the humor finger pointed at you. It will serve to humanize you and help them know you better.
- Create a fireworks finale. I think the two hardest sentences to write are the first one and the last one. They take the most time because they are so important. You want to leave your audience wanting more and you want them to walk away feeling they received value from a remarkable presentation.
- Don’t be afraid to be afraid. I don’t know of any nationally recognized speaker with whom I’ve worked who doesn’t have stage butterflies. We all do. It’s part of the adrenaline rush of speaking. Let it fuel your passion and enthusiasm.
- Triumph over adversity. Things happen and you can’t expect or plan for them. But you can respond to them in victory. I once attended an all-day training session on Change. At the first break of the day an executive stood and said, “You’re teaching us what we already know. Let’s get practical and hear what we don’t know.” That was harsh criticism especially for a Stanford PhD to hear. But, to his credit, over the break, he changed the whole course and we had an incredibly effective day. He knew how to triumph over adversity.
- Win them Over! When you follow these nine steps you’ll go a long ways to winning them over.
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