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Chapter 5. Organize Sort Out Your Ideas ... > Practical Tips for Sound Organizatio...

Practical Tips for Sound Organization

Dottie Walters, head of Walters International Speakers Bureau, has spoken all around the world and worked with hundreds of speakers. She advises speakers to "start with humor and end with heart. Either a story from your own life or about someone else. People love it when someone gets knocked down and gets back up."[7]

  • Check the clock, process, and other ground rules. How long is the presentation supposed to be? What specifically has been requested or specified? Is this likely to be a silent audience, or will it be highly interactive? These questions should have been addressed in planning but are often overlooked.

  • Answer the mail. Follow the dictated agenda and topics. If the customer specifies the order of topics, and the amount of time to give them, that's what you do, unless further dialogue leads to a change.

  • Set a realistic presentation scope. Knowing that the expected time is thirty minutes and that plenty of questions are likely is vital to the topic, coverage, and method.

  • Capture the essence of the talk in one complete statement. That is the same message discussed in planning: the single statement you would make if that's all you could say. All ideas and support material are directed toward supporting that single theme, which may be as simple as "Buy our product" or "Our new Model M Computer is ready for delivery." Make it a simple declarative statement.

  • Boil down the dozen or so ideas you'd like to talk about to the three or four you must talk about. This gets to the key points that can be presented in the time allotted. If you can get three clear ideas across, that's about as much as an audience can absorb. The high-end number has been experimentally shown to be about seven. Any listing above seven will be trouble.[8]

    Suppose your task is to persuade the operations vice president to approve the purchase of a $5 million milling machine. You list all the benefits: faster turnaround, increased capability, reduced labor costs, fewer errors. You've done analyses to prove each point and need about five minutes to cover each, so you ask for a thirty-presentation. He gives you ten. Do you (1) cut the detail, (2) cut the number of points to cover, (3) arrive with a thirty-minute presentation anyway? If you choose option 3, start sharpening your resume.

  • Build in flexibility. In presentations, plans often change. You're asked to give a thirty-minute presentation to the VP on the sixth floor. You get there and find that the meeting is running long; the VP asks if you can streamline your presentation. The wise presenter says, "Absolutely, how about the ten-minute version?" Or as often happens, the VP may say, "I'm heading for the airport. Ride down with me on the elevator and tell me your story." And you once more are ready and give her the essence of your presentation as you ride down on the elevator (which is why this is called the E _______ Speech). Message: In advance consider what you will do if the rules change.

    Here are two masters of the brief summation:

    • During the U.S. economy downtrend in 2001, the CEO of Advanced Micro Circuits Corporation, Dave Rickey, met with the press. Summarizing his company's situation, he said "We're sucking wind. Any questions?"[9]

    • Moderator (and primary head chopper) for the TV series, The Weakest Link, Anne Robinson would retire contestants with her withering summary statement: "You are the weakest link. Goodbye."

  • Put the key points on one page as your summary chart. Make this the first visual aid you prepare. Modify as needed, but keep it highly visible as you continue to develop the presentation.

  • Write out these core ideas as full statements. This sounds simple, but it's often hard to do. Writing out ideas in full forces typical idea fragments to be crystallized into clearer points, and concepts to be cut because they're not clear.

    For example, here's a basic presentation structure in topic form:

    Main message:How great is the Model M
    Key points:Cost, service, and features

    Fleshing out the ideas into full sentences leads to this set:

    Main message:Buying the Model M is a wise investment for your company.
    Key points:
    1. Our model is cheaper than that of our competitors.

    2. Downtime is reduced with our extensive service network.

    3. Faster speed increases production.

    The second set is much clearer than the first. Both speaker and receiver understand clearly just what message the presenter intends to get across. Use this technique of writing out full sentences whenever you find yourself struggling to get your ideas to coalesce.

  • Prioritize topics. Examine adequacy from two perspectives: the presenter's and the audience's. The listeners may have certain topics they specifically want addressed and some they don't care about. The presenter may feel specific topics must be covered to prove or demonstrate the case. Listing topics by priority can sort these out—for example:

    MustMaybeLow Priority
    Total salesSales by product lineMarket share
     Sales by geographic areaCompetitor sales
    Sales trendTrends by divisionCompetitor trends

  • Develop primary and backup materials. Once you've settled on the primary, workable topics, don't discard the secondary ones. Remember the value of flexibility and the interactive nature of presentations. One common technique for contingency insurance is to be ready with a dozen backup (or JIC—Just In Case) charts. If detail is requested, having a backup chart can get that information across quickly and leave a strong impression of a prepared speaker.

  • Continue to follow these same concepts as the remaining details of the presentation are added. Each key point becomes an entirely new main theme. Subpoints can then be tested for their relevance, independence, and adequacy.



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