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If you build it, they will listen

by AprilSix Proof

At Proof we often advise STEM organisations as they prepare to give important speeches or presentations. This week I spent some time with an engineering client getting ready to address a pan-European audience of more than 100 delegates on a highly complex topic. As part of my research I examined again all the different components that make up a well-delivered presentation – from drafting the speech and designing any visual aids to appraising how the content is delivered in practice and offering tips on how best to prepare for the day itself.

In future blogs we can look at delivery and preparation, but in this article I want to examine the content itself – to offer some advice on how to structure a really compelling and engaging presentation.

A speech is your chance to convince an audience to positively respond to what you are saying, so you need to do all you can to make it easy for them to understand and follow your ideas. This is where a well-planned and structured speech is needed.

The ideal structure to an impactful speech or presentation consists of three core sections: an introduction, main body and conclusion.

In the introduction you should inform your listeners what you are going to talk about – using a strong emotive sentence that grabs them.  This could be a quote from a respected third party, an appeal or challenge or even a shocking statistic outlining a challenge (which your speech can then go on to address).

In the main body of your speech you should deliver your key messages (ideally no more than three) using practical examples to underpin your points.  The key messages you choose should be the important statements you want to deliver to your audience that elicit an emotive response, whether it is to support your cause, buy your products or services or just think more kindly of your organisation’s aims and objectives.

Finally, in the conclusion you should summarise what you told the audience and paraphrase the aims outlined in your introduction. Establish a sense of closure by reminding listeners of your three key messages and create closure by providing the audience with a means of continuing the conversation away from the lecture hall (especially if there is no formal Q&A session).

Structure also helps you to guide your audience through your talk. Your speech should be designed with your audience in mind, to stop them losing interest and ensure their minds don’t wander to other subjects like the contents of their smartphones or even what is for lunch.

The best way to do this is to “signpost” your speech. At the beginning, say how your speech will be divided up – stating what each section will offer to listeners and why it is important (this should chime with the theme of the conference or event you are speaking at, to emphasise its relevance). Then during the speech, make it clear when one part has finished and the next part has started. This helps to take your listeners on a journey, rather than just spending your time lecturing (and no doubt losing) them.

So to leave your audience with a positive lasting impression of both you and your company, build your speech around a solid structure designed to keep them engaged and interested. Failing to do so will either leave listeners confused, bored or in the worst cases annoyed. The best you can hope for then is that they will quickly forget you, and that would be a waste of a valuable communications opportunity.

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