Three Cs of Presenting

Don’t just present: Connect, Communicate and Convince.

Anyone can present, some well, some poorly. It just takes an opportunity and (usually) a few minutes to write all your notes in Powerpoint slides, and hey presto, you’re a presenter. You might even learn to use slides properly, remembering the basic principle that people can’t read while listening to you, and considering that you owe it to your audience to actually prepare what you’re going to talk about, instead of using bullet points as your teleprompter.

So you’re a presenter. Congratulations. Is that enough? Is it sufficient to have pretty slides and something to say? Will that achieve your objectives?

Woah, stop right there. Did you say objectives?

Yes, I did. As a presenter, your objective is not to get out of the room alive without having embarrassed yourself or negatively impacted your career prospects (although naturally it’s good if you can at least manage those). You have an objective to communicate one or more messages to your audience so they can do something with those messages.

OK, stop again. A message?

Yes, a message. You are there to pass a message – otherwise you might as well not be there, unless you are only there to entertain. (This rarely happens in business presentations.) Once you know your audience and your objectives, you need to work out what are the 1-3 things you want them to remember a week later, and which will help them to recall other details. 1-3, no more. If you don’t do this work, they’ll remember these three things:

  1. How boring you were
  2. Something wrong with the way you were dressed
  3. Something you said which they don’t actually need to remember

So get that message clear in your mind, so you can find a way to get it clear in the audience’s minds.

But how can you get that message across? This is where the 3C approach comes in. Connect, Communicate and Convince.

Connect

People will listen to you more readily and attentively if you have properly made a connection with them – if you are in the room WITH them, talking WITH them rather than presenting AT them. There are usually plenty of ways to do this. Here are just a few:

  1. Talk to members of the audience before you take the stage.
  2. Research your audience and find something you have in common with them. Ideally a common objective.
  3. Find ways to talk about THEM more than you talk about yourself.
  4. Smile.
  5. Make eye-contact with each individual for long enough that they really notice (assuming your audience appreciates eye-contact – don’t try this in Japan).
  6. Ask the audience some questions at the beginning. If you’re really daring, ask them what THEIR objectives are for your talk.

Think of it like a telephone call. Before you start talking, you have to dial the number, place the call and exchange pleasantries. So don’t just take the stage and start presenting. Take the time to make a connection, and then keep that connection going throughout your talk.

Communicate

Presentation is not a great word because it focuses on the act of sending information, whereas the receipt of that information is at least as important. Your role as a presenter is in fact to be a communicator. You need to know the science of understanding so that you can get your messages across effectively and durably. You need to know your audience to understand how to get through to them, and adapt your talk and your delivery to them – they will not happily adapt to you.

Think of presenting at a brick wall. You can make a great presentation to a brick wall, but it won’t make any difference because the wall won’t listen or understand. Then imagine the wall disappearing and an audience taking its place – and then imagine yourself communicating with that audience, focusing not on how the message leaves your mouth but how it arrives and stays in their minds, and do what it takes to make your message stick (stories, examples, emotions, great images, etc.).

Convince

You might have managed these first two steps, which is already a great leap forwards, but the audience’s reaction might be:

So what?

Maybe they get your message, but they don’t believe it, or they don’t accept it coming from you because they don’t respect you enough. Perhaps you don’t have enough credibility in your subject. It might be because you’re not senior enough, don’t have the right education, or are clearly biased because you’re selling something. There are a thousand reasons why people might not be convinced. Therefore you need to prepare for that.

Work out why your audience (yes, this SPECIFIC audience) might find you lack credibility, or why they might not be convinced by your message. Then address those possible weaknesses in your talk. You can’t pretend to be a VP without being found out, so a lack of seniority might be an insurmountable obstacle in some circles, but in that case, maybe you should consider whether you are the right person to communicate such a message. Most perceived weaknesses can however be addressed.

Let’s take an example. Steve Jobs called a press conference to talk about ‘Antennagate’, the question of the iPhone 4’s apparent antenna difficulties. He had no problems with seniority, but if he’d just said “Well it works fine for me, just don’t hold it that way”, he wouldn’t have convinced many people. Instead, he used AT&T figures on dropped calls, Apple figures on complaints and returns, and the results of lab tests with multiple brands of smartphone. Furthermore, he gave the figures ‘warts and all’ – i.e. he included figures which partly suggested there was a difficulty. This made his arguments far more credible and convincing.

Remember: work out what your main weaknesses might be with that SPECIFIC audience, and create a plan to address them, so your message can be communicated convincingly without obstacles.

That’s what I call the 3C approach. Don’t just present: Connect, Communicate and Convince. If you can do all three of those, your audience will thank you.

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