VICTORIA—Try this experiment. Surf through some TED talks. Find a few you love. What do they have in common?
Great, natural presentation style, to be sure. Stunning visuals, perhaps. But there’s one thing, I’d be willing to bet, that ties them all together. A bold, attention-grabbing, probably contrarian theme.
Did any of those talks feature reams of information? No.
Now, let’s talk about your pitch. I’d be willing to bet it’s shy on the qualities you admire most in a speech. And a bit, well, long on information. Why?
Most of us love the sort of presentations we’re afraid to give. We struggle in our quest to lose the bullet points and dial up the big ideas. I believe there are a raft of greatness blockers holding us back. Here are a few you might recognize.
We’re afraid of not looking smart
How many times have you been inspired to create a great piece of communication, then pulled back because you were afraid it wouldn’t be serious enough? My ad clients used to balk at cutting down the number of selling points in their ads – wouldn’t that make their claims to superiority less credible? Ditto for presenters – if they don’t cover every last support point, won’t that leave them looking like amateurs?
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Make one thoughtful point in a presentation, and everyone will remember it. Make two, and the uptake drops. The more points you make, the less your audience remembers.
If you want to test this theory, sit in on a university lecture. Most professors teach by the book, covering point after point. The effect is anything but inspiring. If you don’t write down what they say, I guarantee you’ll walk out without clear recollection of anything. If that’s what smart looks like, I want my money back.
We can’t explain ‘love it’
As Simon Sinek underlined in his TEDx talk, the part of our brain responsible for emotion is not linked to communication. Which may explain why it’s difficult to verbalize strong feelings. The most we can usually manage is to say we feel good about something, or something just feels wrong.
Not being able to explain – or rationalize – something is akin to magic. We love it, but we don’t quite trust it.
Let’s make this real. You have a terrific idea for a keynote presentation. Every time you roll it through your head, you smile out loud. But when you write the whole thing down, what do you see? Lack of substantiation, lack of real, hard, credible stuff, lack of meat.
What do you do? You start to fill in rational, and scratch emotional. It’s far easier to sell yourself on the idea that you’re making credible points. You can save all that emotional stuff for coffee talk.
Do you hear your audience falling out of love with you? I do.
We mistake the purpose of a speech
Aristotle nailed it 2500 years ago when he said every great presentation has three components: ethos (credibility), logos (substantiation) and pathos (empathy). I would go one step further: Every great presentation begins by establishing your credibility, then rapidly moving to build empathy with the audience.
I believe pathos is the most important element of a speech, for a simple reason. If people don’t like you, they won’t listen to you. You can be a leading authority on your topic, but your points will fall on deaf ears if you don’t build a human, emotional bond with your audience.
And logos? I prefer to put the reams of information backing your points in a leave behind, which will be happily read if your audience knows it came from someone they loved to listen to.
You know you’re smart. So go for the smile.
So you’re sitting in front of your blank screen. You feel you have a big idea that will capture the minds, and most important, the hearts of your audience. But you’re on the fence. Do you go with your gut, or pull out the bullet points?
Trust me. Go with the bold.
Marc Stoiber is founder of Your Ultimate Speech. He’s also a brand consultant, prolific public speaker, blogger and podcaster. When he’s not working, he likes to do silly things like skateboard in empty swimming pools. He can be reached at [email protected].