'Surprise presentation? There is no need to drown in flop sweat. Just follow these simple steps…'

Douglas Kruger

By Douglas Kruger

LAST week, I departed Jersey for the exotic, distant climbs of Watford. My Bradshaw’s Guide describes it as “a thriving and populous town, with only one street, on the banks of the Colne”. Fortunately, the native language was something similar to English.

I was the guest speaker at a convention for the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation, and I got to watch a man sweating as he faced his doom.

Well, not his doom so much as a presentation. And while I enjoy the advantage of weeks of preparation time back in St Helier before I speak to a room, he had been asked to address the group with less than half an hour’s warning. A literal bead of sweat betrayed how terrified he felt as he tapped away on his laptop.

It’s a common terror. In global surveys, when people are asked to rank their fears in order, death typically comes second. Public speaking tops the list. That, of course, teaches us that at your average funeral, most would rather be the person in the box than the one delivering the eulogy. How much worse when it’s impromptu?

Let’s say it happens to you. You’re blissfully milling about on the morning of an event, holding your muffin, that polite but non-committal smile plastered to your face, when the convenor rushes at you all in a tizzy.

“Our president can’t make it. Please could you address the group in his place? Just tell us about something interesting.”

Even as you fumble and stammer, “but… but…” the convenor is off, never to be seen again, leaving you alone with your muffin. Tag, you’re it. What do you do?

It happens often. Could be a sales pitch, could be a leadership talk. Don’t panic. Grab a sheet of paper or open the Notes folder on your phone. Keep your notes very simple, so that you don’t have to read long sentences. Jot down basic ideas only. You will only need three of them in total.

You’re going to use this simple formula: Point – Story – Application.

That’s it. That’s all.

It’s simple but it’s comprehensive, and it’s used by the world’s top professional speakers. Plus, if you need to fill time, you can simply use it on repeat. Make a second point, tell a second story, and so on.

Here’s how the formula goes:

1. Point

Decide on a thing to say. A basic idea. Something that would be useful for the audience to know. That’s your anchor. And you’re going to start by telling the audience your point directly. For instance, you might say: “If you want to launch a successful company, you must first gather a good team.” That becomes the notion that you will now explore with them.

2. Story

Now make your point come alive in their minds. Give them a picture to go with it. It could be an example. You could tell a simple story about how it looks, and how it plays out, in the real world. You could even say something like, “imagine this…,” and make up a hypothetical story. Or you could tell a real one.

Stories are the medium of human communication. They are more convincing than stats or facts, and when you tell them, it helps you to get “in the zone” in a way that reciting facts never could. By all means, throw in a few facts as part of the story. But, by and large, you should focus on telling a tale that helps them to “see what you mean”.

A story can be simple or complicated, funny or emotional. Sometimes the very best stories are about our own failures, or our own funny embarrassments, and what we learned from them. Few things are more powerful for teaching audiences than a “how I got it wrong” tale.

3. Application

Now, you’ve made your point, and you’ve told a story about it. There is only one thing left to do. Turn it back to the audience. Show them how to apply it in their lives. Think of this final step as the part when you give your audience a set of direct instructions. You’ve introduced an idea, you’ve shown them what it looks like with an example, and now you say, “here’s how you can do it.”

And that’s it. That is a strong presentation. And you didn’t even need to prepare slides or write it out word-for-word. All you needed was a point, the story that went with it, and a way to turn it into instructions at the end. You could just about do it on the fly.

If you have more than one point to make, simply repeat the formula. Deliver a second point. Tell a second illustrative story. Tell the audience what to do about it. Repeat for as many points as you need.

That simple formula is what the world’s top speakers use. They simply add complexity to it: more humour, more emotion, more variety, greater art in the storytelling. But, at its heart, that’s all it is.

You’re now equipped with a framework that will help you to speak like the best. Set down your muffin and lift up your chin. Go forth and delight them.

  • Douglas Kruger is a “Hall of Fame” speaker who lives in St Helier but speaks all over the world. He is particularly partial to invitations to present in Mauritius. His books are available from Audible and Amazon. Meet him at douglaskruger.com.

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