The following actually happened to a friend of mine.
A sharp and superbly-educated young lady, she secured an interview for the job of her dreams. While overjoyed, she was also anxious: as a critical part of the evaluation, she was given all but three days to prepare a 20-minute presentation to a panel. After prepping HARD, she set off for the big day, unaware of the surprise that awaited her.
When she entered the room, the lead interviewer went: "I'm quite sorry, but our schedule has changed, and... we can only give you two minutes to present."
Uhhhh... Excuse me?
Just like that, they cut her talk by 90%. And like any normal person would, she panicked. She went blank. Then she struggled through the presentation.
Now, I'm certain she did better than how she described it to me in her self-critical aftermath. But there's no question this nasty surprise threw her off. It would have knocked most of us right off the podium.
But here's the good news: it doesn't have to.
Do one little thing, and you'll stay cool and eloquent no matter how little time you have. This one thing has become second nature for most professional speakers, but the vast majority of us fail to do it, and we suffer for it (actually, our audiences suffer).
The one thing is... well, to find the one thing.
More accurately, it's to find the one thing that's more important than anything else. The one thing that you want them to remember a month from now. It's the One Thing to Tell Them All. It's your Core Message. Everything else should serve to reinforce your one core message.
"Isn't that obvious?" you may ask. Yes, yes it is. But that hasn't stopped countless speakers from failing to do it. Because it's not how we naturally think and communicate.
Our thoughts and ideas don't come to us neatly arranged like flowers in a Japanese garden. They're rather more like wild bushes, sprouting up in a random mess. Stunningly, many speakers communicate the way they think - in a random mess. And their audiences end up hearing a lot but remembering nothing.
To avoid this mistake, trim and organize your weedy mess of creative ideas into:
- One core message.
- 2-3 key points that support it.
- Compelling stories, numbers, expert quotes or other support for each key point.
The result should look something like this:
(I'll cover techniques to get from weedy mess to clean structure in a future post)
Get to know these parts like the inside of your home. Master how they support one another. Then you're ready to adapt to any time limit, any surprise:
- Given 60 minutes: you can do a captivating introduction, present the core message, then spend 10-15 minutes talking about each key point and their abundant supporting evidence, before closing with a jolting call to action.
- Given 10 minutes: you can intro with a splash, launch the core message and 3 key points, give one strong support for each key point, and close on a high note.
- Given 1 minute: you can go straight to the core message, buttress it with three key points, then issue a stirring call to action.
Don't believe you can do it in one minute? Watch pro speaking coach Carmine Gallo do it in 15 seconds:
Master these techniques, and the next time someone gives you two minutes to present your case, you'll mutter to yourself: "That's plenty of time!" Then you'll speak with great eloquence and coherence, as your audience mutter to themselves:
"That was impressive."
- Craig Hadden of Remote Possibilities has a great blog post on this - Need to Present a 1-Hour Slideshow in 30 Minutes? Don't Speed Up! Do this instead... It teaches you how to set up custom slideshows in Power Point to prepare for all scenarios!
- Another excellent article on the topic is from Rob Biesenbach - What to Do When Your Speaking Time is Cut Short. His tips are eminently sensible and instantly applicable.
- Comedian & Speaker extraordinaire Judy Carter's The Message of You offers really good exercises for finding the core messages of your life - doubly valuable because these already have the best support - your life stories.
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