Join Jeff Ansell for an in-depth discussion in this video Organizing your thoughts, part of Communicating with Confidence.
- The simplest, fastest, and most productive way to prepare presentations, briefings, or meeting notes, is to use index cards, or cue cards, to organize your thoughts. In an earlier video, we talked about the benefits of delivering one thought at one time. Now, I'm going to share with you a strategy that's consistent with our philosophy of, one thought, one time. Identify one thought at one time, then capture that single thought on an index card. One thought, one index card.
The beauty of this approach is that it frees you from the need to prepare your content in a flowing, logical manner. With each card containing only one thought, it's easy to remove and place somewhere else. Index cards in place, start preparing your presentation, but don't begin with the introduction. We start by defining our purpose of the presentation. Without a clear and defined purpose, your presentation will lack direction and focus. To help you pinpoint the purpose, answer the following questions: is the presentation to inform or persuade? Is the presentation aimed at getting the audience to take action? What do I hope to accomplish with the presentation? Examples of purpose could be: to gain budget approval from the board of directors, to generate enthusiasm among the sales staff to increase revenue, or maybe, get people to vote for you.
When you've identified your precise purpose, write it on an index card labeled, purpose, then set the card aside for use as reference. Next, move to the middle to create your main ideas. Main ideas are the three or four principle points you want to communicate to your audience. Examples of man ideas are: plan to enhance productivity, next year's marketing strategy, or policy on a particular issue. If your presentation has more than three or four main ideas, you run the risk of leaving people with a fuzzy message.
By highlighting three or four main ideas, your presentation has structure, and it's easy to follow, so, decide your main ideas. Use fresh index cards, each labeled, main idea. In bullet-point form, write each main idea on separate cards. By separating each main idea on different index cards, you have flexibility in the order you'll later give the cards. Now that the focus of your presentation is in place, assemble the details to bring your main ideas to life.
Details put the meat on the bones of your main ideas. Use one detail per index card. Write in bullet-point form. Use as few words as possible, per card. Develop your details with, for example, information relevant to the audience, statistics that are rounded off, descriptive word pictures to help people visualize, anecdotes, analogies, visual aids, if needed, to help the audience understand. After writing each detail on separate index cards, place the detail cards with the main ideas they relate to, so it begins to look like you're playing Solitaire.
Use as many details as necessary to make your points. Now, you're ready to write the introduction. With people's attention spans getting shorter and shorter, you need to give people a reason to listen to you, within the first 20 seconds or so, into your talk. That's when people decide to either listen, or tune out. If you don't quickly engage people in a presentation, and give people a reason to listen to you, it's going to be difficult capturing their attention, from that point on. You must give the audience a reason to listen in the very first sentence.
In your opening statements to the audience, if you can, give your audience a stake in the presentation. Tell them the single most important reason why they should listen to you. Here are a few examples of opening statements: I'll show you how to make more money, here's how to enhance productivity, I'll present a plan to boost corporate revenues next year. Do not open your presentation with an apology like, "I know you're all busy, so I'll try not to waste "much of your time." Apologetic presentations like, "I'm sorry, I lost my place," kinda makes the audience feel very uncomfortable.
Open your presentation with energy and enthusiasm, and you'll capture the audience's attention. It's time to create the conclusion. Interestingly enough, conclusions are often the part of the presentations that people remember best. The conclusion, therefore, offers opportunity to stress benefits, and wrap up your presentation in a clear, succinct manner. The conclusion, by the way, is not the place to introduce new information. End your presentation by briefly reiterating your main ideas.
Examples of conclusions are: by way of summary, let me leave you with this, briefly, I've talked about, or leave your audience with the one thought you need them to remember going forward. To end your presentation, issue a call to action. Tell people what you want them to do or need from them, as a result of your information. Examples of calls to action are: I need you to approve the budget now, please get back to me in one week with your reaction, or, I want your business.
Here's what to do now. Put the index cards in order by following this sequence. Start with the introduction card, go to your first main idea, support that main idea with its details, in the appropriate order. Then, go to your next main idea, followed by its details. After sequencing all main ideas and details, end with the conclusion card. Review the first card you wrote, the purpose card, to ensure you've achieved your objective in writing the presentation.
Because you have few words on each card, you'll be speaking extemporaneously. That way, your natural style will come through. For some people who prefer to use a text when they present, the index card approach offers a concise, coherent first draft of the presentation. All that's required is to turn the index cards into prose, if that's the preferred method of delivery. Let's talk for a quick moment about knowing what to say when you're not prepared. Again, there's really no substitute for preparation, but, sometimes, we just don't have the benefit of preparation time.
In circumstances where you have minimal time, grab a piece of paper or a napkin, jot down three, or so, key points, or main ideas. Line them up side by side. Then, just like before, add details to each main idea. Once you're done, identify what means most to the people in the room, and work it into your introduction. It's the same for the conclusion. Jot down the one thought you want people to remember, and if there is one, issue a call to action.
Now you know what you want to say. To be a confident communicator, you need to say it like you mean it.
- Organizing your thoughts
- Speaking slowly, naturally, and confidently
- Breathing properly
- Using your body to reinforce speech
- Managing facial expressions
- Handling nervousness
- Integrating voice modulation, eye contact, and hand gestures into a powerful and engaging communication style