Have an attention getter.

In the world of marketing and advertising, there’s a well-known acronym called AIDA. It stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. AIDA is the golden path to persuasion.

If your ultimate objective is to get someone to do something (action), you have to start by first grabbing their attention. The same thing holds true when you talk to people. In order to make your point, the first thing you have to do is grab their attention. If you don’t hook ‘em early, you’ll lose ‘em early.

So how do you grab someone’s attention? Well you can start by using a creative device such as a personal story, analogy or surprising statistic and link it to the subject you’re talking about. For example, if you want to talk about goal setting, you might read an excerpt from a magazine article about someone who accomplished an amazing feat. If you want to talk about improving productivity, ask your listeners to guess how long it took to build the Empire State Building (13 months!). If you want to talk about getting spending under control, you might start by burning a dollar bill. (Okay, so it’s illegal to burn money and you might set off a fire alarm, but you get the idea.)

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Organizing your content

Why do so many speakers wander aimlessly through their presentations thinking that their audience really wants to work that hard to try to follow them? Don’t they realize that it’s not the job of the listener to do all of the work, it’s the job of the presenter? It’s the listener’s job to absorb the information, not decipher it. 

First, you need to grab your listener’s attention. Without the attention of an audience, you don’t have an audience. Establish rapport. Tell a personal story, ask a question, throw out a surprising statistic, or use some other device to connect you with your audience.

Then, right up front, clearly and concisely state your main topic. Don’t keep anyone guessing. Tell them what they are going to hear and tell them why they should care. (Remember, they want to know what’s in it for me?)

Next, you should give a very brief preview of your three sub-topics. The entire content of your presentation will be wrapped up in these three conceptual ideas. By the way, when you deliver your previews, clearly say: “Number one, Number two and Number three.” If you don’t, your audience won’t be able to track with you easily.

After your brief preview, you need to develop each of the three sub-topics within the “body” of your presentation. Each of the three sub-topics will have supporting evidence to substantiate it. This is the meat of your message.

After you finish your third sub-topic, each of the three sub-topics then needs to be briefly summarized so that your audience can refocus on the three key ideas. Again, you will want to say “Number one, number two and number three” so that your audience stays in sync with you.

Then comes the conclusion, which is a restatement of the “so what” of the entire presentation that you gave in the beginning. Again, tell them why they should care about what you just talked about. Relate it to them.

 And, finally, the appeal or action step. This is where you tell your listeners what you want them to do as a next step. Don’t just leave them hanging.

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Have a beginning, middle and end.

Clarity and comprehension will result from the flow of your thoughts and the order you put them in. Your listener’s brain may be tired or overloaded, but it always seeks logic. When you speak, you must provide your listener with a logical argument. Everything should be in its proper place.

If you’ve ever had presentation training, you know that nearly all communication coaches will outline a sequence for a good presentation as follows: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them (the beginning)…tell them (the middle)…and then tell them what you just told them (the end).” Great advice. Otherwise, a listener’s attention will wane if you don’t lay out a logical sequence. Don’t complicate your message by creating detours in your logic roadmap.

Whether it’s the thirty second “stop by” message, the five-minute staff meeting report or the forty-five minute conference presentation, comprehensible communication needs a beginning, middle and end.

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What’s your objective?

 As Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up someplace else.” It’s the same way when we communicate with others. Pleeeeease don’t start talking unless you have a clear idea in your head what you’re trying to say.  Sounds obvious doesn’t it?   But the truth is that plenty of us start talking before we know exactly what we’re thinking. It becomes difficult to make your point when you’re not quite sure what your point is.

 One of the most important questions you should ask yourself is: Is my objective to simply inform my listener, or is my objective to persuade them to do something?  In all the years we’ve coached people, it seems to us that many people take the easy way out and they decide that their objective is to just give information when really what they needed to do was to persuade. Know what you’re trying to say and, whenever possible, frame it as a persuasive discussion rather than just another information download.

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What’s in it for me?

At The Bronx Zoo in New York City, there’s an exhibit called The World of Darkness. Inside it’s pitch black and houses nocturnal creatures such as raccoons, skunks, and bats. Years ago, on the line to go into the exhibit, there was a sign that stated: “Please do not run or scream while in the World of Darkness or you will frighten the animals.” That’s pretty clear, right? But the problem was that people were still running and screaming. Why do you suppose that was? Because the sign was missing something! It was missing WHAT’S IN IT FOR THEM. The Bronx Zoo hadn’t given visitors any compelling reason not to run or scream.

Eventually a second sign had to be added below the first sign. The second sign read: “If you frighten the animals, they will hide and you will not be able to see them.” Now that’s persuasion!

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A friend of ours who has a seven-year-old daughter, who plays softball, shared a story with us. He told us that his daughter’s team was in the field and the other team was at bat. With all good intentions, one of his daughter’s coaches yelled out to the girls: “Force on Second. Force on second.” WHAT?! Force on Second? What the heck does “force on second” mean to a seven-year-old? Evidently that coach didn’t consider his audience and he was destined to be yet another unsuccessful communicator. He should’ve thought more about who he was talking to and said something like: “Girls, if the ball is hit to you, throw it to Claire on second base.”

The same thing is true in business. Before making your point, always consider who you’re talking to. Here are some of the most critical questions you must consider:

  • Who is in my audience? (Demographics: age, sex, education, etc.)
  • How much do they know about my subject?
  • What is their attitude about me, my department, my company and my subject?
  • What issues are important and not important to them?
  • What is their objective? (Why are they here?)
  • What can I say that will be of value to them?
  • How much time do they have?
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Know your audience.

A major technology firm once hired us to sit in on a number of briefings they were going to give to some prospective customers. In a sense, they wanted us to be the proverbial fly on the wall. The client sensed that they could improve how they conducted these very important meetings and wanted our guidance.

In one briefing, a researcher from the technology company stood up and gave a presentation about Java (for those of you who don’t speak geek, Java is a type of computer programming language). The presenter went into great depth about all sorts of minutia about Java such as creating a GUI with JFC/Swing and writing applets. Egad! About 20 minutes into the presentation, one of the prospective customers raised his hand and said: “What’s Java?” Unfortunately for the researcher, that prospect felt buried under a boatload of irrelevant information. Had the researcher taken the time beforehand to consider how much knowledge the audience had and what was important (and not important) to them, that wouldn’t have happened. Remember, it’s not just about what you want to tell them, it’s also about what they want to know.

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Simplicity beats complexity.

Do you have any idea how many ads Mr. and Ms. Average American are exposed to in one day? About 2,500 give or take a few hundred. 2,500! That means that if we’re awake an average of 16 hours a day, that’s over 150 ads an hour (this includes TV, radio, the internet, outdoor advertising, and the like).

So how are you going to break through the clutter to help make certain your message gets through?

Simplicity.  Knowing what you want to say and saying it simply.

The Gettysburg Address had only 261 words.

The average person you talk to has the attention span of a gnat (your authors included). Keep your message simple and you’ll have a better chance of getting it to stick.

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Anticipate the conversation.

A number of years ago, the receptionist at an ad agency where a friend of ours worked was about to retire. To celebrate her transition, the staff threw a little office party in her honor. As everyone was milling around in the lobby making small talk and enjoying a cocktail, a couple of people came up to our friend and said, “We’re about to bring the cake out now and we thought it would be nice if you gave a little toast.” Seconds later about fifty coworkers were staring at him awaiting his words. Our friend paused. He stammered. He paused again. He told a lame story. He bombed.

It didn’t have to be that way. Had our pal taken a few minutes before the party to prepare his thoughts just in case he might be asked to say something, he could’ve given the receptionist the sendoff she deserved.

Of course, the more formal the occasion, the more time you’ll want to spend preparing your thoughts. However, there are countless informal times where you’ll be put on the spot. Trust us, you’ll wish you had taken a few moments beforehand to gather your ideas.

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Seize The Moment

Be willing to speak up.
The New Yorker heralded Noam Chomsky of M.I.T as “one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century.” The magazine, however, also said that Chomsky had “a voice so quiet that, unless he has a microphone, it is difficult to hear him.” They added, “He gives his words so little force that they scarcely leave his mouth.”

Many of us simply need to pick up our energy level, annunciate our words, and add power to our thoughts. Performance counts. Being prepared with convincing messages to be delivered either spontaneously or formally takes discipline. Take the time to know what messages you want to have ready to deliver at any time. And then organize your messages into bite-sized pieces so you can serve them up whenever necessary.

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