I once worked with a business leader who was, literally, all business. Stoic and reserved, she exuded grace, confidence, and expertise – but wasn’t easy to connect with or very relatable. While many executives can be intimidating, she was an extreme case. Her speeches were always well-organized and full of amazing content… but were barely memorable, and never inspiring. She never told a story or included an anecdote, quote, or joke.
One way to breathe life into any conversation or presentation, whether at a team meeting, a sales call or yes, even a TED talk, is to sprinkle it with stories, analogies, visuals, and humor.
To engage our audience, we need to do more than merely provide information. It’s the difference between reading an encyclopedia (which is certainly informative) versus reading a blog or book from an engaging subject matter expert: the subject matter expert will typically provide the context – the stories and examples that will make the content meaningful and relatable.
Decker Communications has a wonderful analogy for generating ideas on how to make your presentations and other business communications more personable, relatable and memorable. They call these must-have elements “SHARPs.”
Stories. Strike a balance between relatable and “too personal.” Consider using a story that can be woven throughout your presentation that highlights your main points. Don’t be afraid to use multiple short stories if they are particularly memorable, as shown in Steve Job’s famous Stanford commencement address.
Humor. While no one is expecting you to be a stand-up comic, a little levity can help show your humanness particularly if you’re in leadership. Remember, you’re still in a professional setting, so pick the right tone and still be you. For example, “I started writing my book when my son was in diapers…. And he’s graduating high school next week.” Everyone can relate to missing deadlines, time getting away from the best of us, and best-laid plans. To see a great example of using humor even with the most devastating topics, one’s own nearing mortality, is the first 2-3 minutes of Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture.”
Analogies. Analogies can shorten the audience’s effort to understanding your topic by connecting your new information with concepts they already know. You’ve probably heard of the famous Nordstrom return policy and how they will take anything back. There is even a brief story about how a man rolled a pair of tires into Nordstrom one day and told the salesperson, “my wife swears she got them here.” That funny, but true story has become symbolic of the company’s commitment to customer satisfaction and standing behind a return policy.
A different, more recent example is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s commentary about climate change, illustrated by asking the reader to imagine they have to choose one of two doors. Behind Door #1 is a gasoline-fueled car running at top speed in a sealed room; behind Door #2 is an electric car in an identical room. The reader is asked to choose which room they want to stay in without a mask or breathing apparatus.
References and Quotes. Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t know it well enough.” One of the best ways to not only capture your audience’s attention but to also help set the stage or to summarize your speech topic is to use a quote from a notable person.
Pictures and Visuals. What’s the point of presenting content if people don’t remember it? After studying 500 of the most popular TED speeches, Researcher Carmine Gallo found that one of the best ways to improve audience recall is to include pictures in your presentation. This becomes particularly true in complex topics, like how Al Gore includes charts and graphs in his latest TED talk on climate change.
So, before you give your next speech or create other business communication, take some time to not just polish it – make it SHARP – by including an element or two from this list. When used judiciously, these elements add personality, help the audience retain your information and can help you accomplish the goals of your presentation like few other communications tools can.
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