If you’re anything like most people, when you hear the word, “autopsy”, your thoughts immediately turn morbid. If you don’t mind removing your grim reaper hat for just a moment, you might be surprised to learn that autopsy, in the broader sense, means an analysis of something after it has been completed. Of course, the something I’m talking about here is a speech.
Immediately after a speaker delivers a high-stakes presentation, it is quite common for them to do the following: 1) breathe a sigh of relief; 2) pat themselves on the back; and 3) celebrate with an adult beverage. For the most part, the presentation is never thought of again. Contrarily, those who want to become better presenters view their freshly delivered speeches as bodies of evidence, knowing that process doesn’t end until they’ve performed an autopsy. The purpose of their post-delivery examination is to identify strengths and opportunities that, if utilized, can improve their next presentation.
Before we go any further, let me just say that I get it. I fully realize that very few people are eagerly raising their hands to give presentations and even fewer want to relive the experience once they’ve survived it. That’s why I’m glad I’m talking to you instead of them. If you’ve read this far, it’s safe to say you’re at least mildly interested and semi-willing to be uncomfortable in the name of being a better speaker. I’ll be the first to admit . . . this autopsy idea takes some getting used to. Fortunately for me, I was baptized by fire. My college football coach, Coach Jones, would review each of our games, play-by-play with our entire offense. Trust me, there are few things worse than watching yourself make error after error while you’re highlighted on a big screen TV with a bright red laser pointer. Coach Jones’ favorite saying ― and the one lesson I learned from that experience ― is that “video don’t lie!” There’s no debating video evidence. This is why one of the fastest ways to get better as a presenter is to record your presentations and watch them within 24 hours of completing your speech, when your memories are still fresh. Waiting any longer can allow us to delude ourselves about how well we did.
Here are three reasons why you should perform an autopsy immediately after your next speech:
1. Content Evaluation – The purpose of this is to assess how clear and compelling your ideas were by asking yourself a few pointed questions:
Did you grab your audience’s attention with your opening? When you read the faces and body language of your audience, what did they tell you? Were your key points clear and did they stand on their own? Should you add a point or should you consolidate two points into one? Did your stories adequately illustrate your points? Did they laugh when you expected them to laugh? Did you get a surprise laugh? If you did, write it into your script. Did your audience ask questions? If so, did their questions suggest confusion or introduce new ideas or concepts that could be added to your presentation? Finally, did you close with a compelling call to action or did you crash and burn or just dwindle down to nothing?
2. Visuals – Here, we’re speaking about PowerPoint, videos and handout material.
Start by asking if there are any visuals that you can eliminate. Less is more in every presentation . . . remember, you’re the show! The goal is to have as few visuals as possible to convey your points. Were your slides arranged in a sequence that maximized clarity? If you used video, did you properly set up and exit that video? Did your handout or training manual overwhelm your audience or seamlessly complement your presentation?
3. Delivery – Here, we’re talking specifically about stagecraft.
Were you clear and confident? Were your movements natural and fluid? Did you pace back and forth or did you closely resemble a mannequin? Did you use vocal variety to draw your audience in? Most importantly, did you connect?
Nearly everyone wants to be a better public speaker but very few people are willing to endure the temporary discomfort necessary to make it happen. If you truly want to bring your presentations to life, start with an autopsy. I promise you ― it’s not as bad as you think.
Dez Thornton is a communications coach who helps you say the right words in the right way when they matter most! For more information, see www.dezthornton.com.