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The 1 Mistake Almost All Speakers Make, According to a Brilliant Stanford Lecturer and TED Speaker

The 1 Mistake Almost All Speakers Make, According to a Brilliant Stanford Lecturer and TED Speaker

You're about to make a presentation to your employees, give a speech to an industry audience, or make a pitch to potential investors. So what's the

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You’re about to make a presentation to your employees, give a speech to an industry audience, or make a pitch to potential investors. So what’s the first question you ask yourself? I’d bet money that it’s this one: What do I want my audience to do as a result of my presentation, and how will my presentation inspire them to do it?

That approach is completely wrong says J.D. Schramm, a lecturer in strategic communications and organizational behavior at both Stanford and Columbia, as well as a TED speaker. I interviewed Scrhamm at the recent Qualtrics summit, where he gave a popular workshop on storytelling with data to a standing-room-only crowd. 

Schramm advises that you begin planning every presentation by asking yourself these three questions: 1) Who is the audience? 2) What do they need to hear? 3) What is my desired outcome?

Most presenters, Schramm says, don’t consider the first two questions and jump straight to the third–what are they hoping to achieve with their presentation or speech? That seems like it makes perfect sense. From a presentation to an ad campaign to a new product launch, you should never take on any task without knowing what you hope to achieve. But by failing to consider those first two questions, you can make the classic error of focusing on the information you want to convey rather than what your customer wants or needs to learn. “Too many executives start with the outcome and skip the part where they understand their audience and want to tell them a story,” Schramm explains.

So take a little time, before you consider whatever it is you’re trying to teach or sell, and think just about the audience, who they are and what their desires and pain points might be. You may need to do some research to answer these questions. If you’re talking to employees, sending out a brief survey or spending a little time chatting with people might give you the insight you need. If it’s an audience of customers or potential customers, you may already have market research that will tell you their greatest concerns and desires. If it’s a more general audience, find out as much as you can about who’ll be there before you begin. You can also ask a question or two at the start of your presentation, and then tailor which points you emphasize based on their responses.

The power of storytelling

Once you know who your audience members are and whay they’re most eager to learn, and once you’ve established your own intention and objectives for the presentation, Schramm has one more all-important piece of advice: Tell a story. “What people remember is stories,” he explains. 

Then Schramm told the story of an entrepreneur he worked with who had pitched many, many VCs without success. So the entrepreneur switched around the order of his slide deck. “You have to tell a story that’s ‘This is how things are, this is how things could be,'” Schramm says. “He changed the order of his slide deck to show those two things and the tension back and fort between them, and from that one change, he started getting investment. Now the company is launched and doing well.”  

Sometimes a story can be very simple. It can even be one sentence, Schramm adds. “Instead of, ‘Starting July 30 we will no longer accept checks,’ it should be, ‘Many of our customers have told us they prefer direct bank payments over the hassle of dealing with paper checks. Therefore, starting July 30 we will stop accepting checks.'” It makes a big difference because, even briefly, you’ve taken your audience along on the journey that’s led you to learn whatever you’re about to say.

Next time you have to make a presentation, what story will you tell?

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

This article is from Inc.com

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