April 29, 2011

Your presentation: The "So what?" factor

You've got a great hook for your presentation. You've got a truly startling statistic. You've got a powerful theme.

Or so you think.

We tend to think our ideas are spectacular and that everyone wants to hear them. Which is one reason why it's so hard for a speaker to stick to her time. It's inconceivable that there might be parts of the speech that could be cut, so instead, she tries to pack in as much as possible.

But that's not my point today. My point today is "So what?"

This is one of many questions your audience is asking before, during and after your presentation (including, "How much longer?" and "Are there cookies?"). But it's an important one, because if the answer to "So what?" is not convincing enough, your audience will feel disappointed and let down.

I'm working with a client on a speech with the theme "Simply Amazing." She wants to touch on all the aspects of her organization and its members that are "amazing."

However, using a word like "amazing" can backfire on you. Now that you've committed to talking about what's amazing in this organization, you can't tell just any old stories or use just any old examples. You don't want your audience to find your definition of "amazing" to be lacking. You don't want your audience arguing with you in their minds, saying "That's not amazing at all. It's kinda neat, but not really AMAZING."

Jerry Seinfeld touched on this during the TV special "Talking Funny" that I referenced the other day. He remembered being introduced once by Louis C.K., who was opening the show.

Louis introduced Jerry as "the best comedian in the world," and Jerry says, "I just went right down the toilet. The audience goes, 'Oh, really.' [crossing his arms defiantly]. Don't put that kind of pressure on someone."

Now in this case, you might be putting that pressure on yourself!

Is that statistic really going to shock your audience the way you hope it will? Is your hook (think "Yes, we can!") as compelling as you hope it will be? Is your theme ("Simply Amazing") going to generate the kinds of stories and examples that will truly awe your audience?

I am, by no means, saying that you should play it safe and avoid big themes and catchy phrases. Please be as radical as you need to be to make your point.

But keep in mind the "So what?" factor. The audience will be asking themselves this question, so you need to ask it of yourself first.

My client's first theme was "Believe," but "Simply Amazing" became more compelling to her the more she thought about the points she wanted to make and the way she wanted to affect the audience. If she found that "Simply Amazing" was going to be too difficult to pull off, she could always go back to "Believe" as her theme. It could be equally as powerful, but doesn't come with the inherent pressure that the word "amazing" does.

If you don't think you have the supporting material, it's okay to let go of a big idea -- for now.

If you take a critical look at your ideas and feel sure that you will blow your audience's mind, then go big! Commit! Bring out the big stats, the big themes and the big ideas!

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