Polish Your Presentation Skills

Modern audiences have short attention spans. In older cultures, the people would sit around together and tell stories. Then came letter writing. Individuals around the world would send lengthy and elaborate letters by post to friends and family members. Around the turn of the century, there were approximately 3 million telephones. This gave rise to shorter but more frequent conversations. With the invention of the television we were introduced to news clips and sound bites and eventually MTV. Computers and email took sound bites into written form. We then transitioned into social networking and texting, which has evolved into 140-character tweets. Not only has technology given us shorter and shorter communication abilities, we are inundated with a barrage of quick images and video. All of this leads to a shortened attention span. We want our information quick and we want it now!

As a speaker, you must keep this development in mind. In order to maintain the attention of their audiences, communicators must show that their message will benefit the audience members in some way. Simply presenting interesting information is no longer enough. There needs to be an attention grabbing “Wow” factor.

It is important to maintain our ancestral ability to tell a good story, which is personal and appealing to the audience. Dry facts from a talking head are not nearly as interesting as a heartfelt experience. At the same time, it is important to encapsulate the information, bullet point by bullet point into a memorable sound bite. Surely you have experienced attending a great talk, and came away with one or two powerful statements that really made an impression, and that you will remember long after the talk is over.

Prior to preparing a speech, the speaker should become familiar with the audience’s point of view. In other words, do some research to find out what aspect of a topic would most concern the audience members, and tailor the talk accordingly. Try to put yourself in their shoes, and give them what they want.

Online resources are often helpful in providing insight into the group’s focus and goals. The internet is an invaluable tool for designing a speech for a specific audience, making generic presentations seem outdated and obsolete.

If possible, arrive early at your venue, and chat with audience members to build rapport. Ask genuine, open-ended questions and really listen to the responses. Listen for key words, specific problem and jargon that are particular to your group. Then use that information to further refine your speech.

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