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Stories and Structure

This lesson is a part of an audio course How to Present Like a Professional Speaker by Andy Edwards

We have done our first piece of structuring by telling the audience what we're going to tell them… in this lecture, we look at some ideas and tips when you get into the detail of telling them. And a contrast between occasional or non-professional speakers and the professionals – is storytelling:

I will read you two accounts of an incident… the first is a statement of what happened, the second adds emotive language to the story… see which you prefer.

I looked outside my tent and saw a Sherpa standing by himself. He seemed to be looking at the stars. As I watched, he slowly turned around to face me. He then told me that he thought there would be an avalanche by the morning and that we should abandon our attempt at the summit.

Up against this account of the same incident.

I poked my head out from the relative sanctuary of my tiny bivouac tent. One of the Sherpas was standing silently silhouetted against the vista of the brightest stars I had ever seen. In that eerie brightness, he seemed to be in silent communication with the universe. As he turned to face me, he told me something that saved my life and those of my best friends... His gaze pieced my soul, and I remember his next 6 words as if it were yesterday. He said: "Tomorrow. Avalanche. We must turn back…"

I admit that I actually got goosebumps writing the second paragraph. And I hope you would agree that the more descriptive passage is the one that would engage an audience at an emotional level.

Even if you find that a bit flowery, just understand that as human beings, we are programmed to listen to stories. Generations ago, it was the only way of transferring information. And, of course, as infants and young people, we gain nearly all of our learning by hearing parents and guardians tell us stories. So add drama, excitement, tragedy – even exaggeration, it's your story, after all.

As you move through the body of your presentation, it's a good idea to remind people where you are in the presentation.

"Right – now you understand more about each others' body language, we will move on to the second of my three main points today – that of vocal intonation."

And a simple slide can illustrate your three main points, with the second point highlighted… this has the benefit of allowing people to remind themselves of your third point too – and helps them understand exactly where the presentation has been – and is going.

By the way, a useful structure I recommend for the factual presenter is the 'question set' approach. Simply, this lists the four, five, or six questions they get asked most about their subject. Many academic, scholarly, or scientific presenters often say how easy they find answering questions of their subject matter – and yet find it so difficult to make a presentation. My recommendation is to imagine the audience is asking a question and simply answer them. Show the questions early in the presentation and, as each point is made, traverse to the next element by simply having the next question on-screen (or highlighted in the list) and state it out loud. Add an anecdote of the first time you were asked the question – or why a particular person asked it and then proceed to talk through your answer as if you were chatting to an interested individual. It works really well as an intellectual presentation model. Perhaps it would work for you?

The final point about the body of the presentation is that, once you have told them – you will need to TELL them what you have just told them.

Although this sounds a bit strange when you say it like that, in actual fact, it's a perfectly valid structure point.

Here you will want to recap on the points of your presentation, allowing you to come to a powerful conclusion.

By the way, avoid actually using the word review or recap. It sounds like you're about to repeat yourself and people don't necessarily warm to that. Choose a powerful statement like "To summarize…" or even "To encapsulate this…" and then proceed to hit them with the points you have made.

Here's my example…

And so we reach the conclusion of my presentation today, a presentation in which you learned about Body language – and how we are assessed as we walk into the room. You also learned how vocal intonation, cadence, and speed of speech contributes to understanding the personality style of others – and, of course, we looked at the vocabulary – the very words people use so that we can recognize their psychological preferences.

Combine these three skills as you read your friends, colleagues – even family members; see what THEY see in you both positive and challenging… and it is THIS that will give you the answer to our initial question – what do people say when you're not in the room!"

Get the idea?

In the structure, you have literally given the audience a context, destination, and overview of your talk. You have expanded on that overview in the body of the presentation – and you have ended your speech with a powerful summary and conclusion which ties back to the initial statement of 'By the end of this talk…"

Your task for this lesson is to write a conclusion to your talk. You already have the PUNCH and the opening statement – the one that begins – by the end of this presentation, I want you to…. Now add a conclusion. Once you do this, the actual body content of the talk becomes much easier to write.

Is that it? No, absolutely not… although you have done well to structure your talk – we now need to know exactly how to finish it without fizzling out. This we will learn about in the next lesson.

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Written by

Andy Edwards

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