The ultimate goal of every presenter, regardless of expertise, is to make their ideas click in the minds of their listeners to the point that they willfully follow them to their predetermined conclusion. Many well-intentioned speakers fall short of this goal because they falsely assume that their audience cares enough about their message to sort through the clutter and confusion to extract what’s important. In reality, the opposite is true. Audiences show up expecting to be spoon fed and as soon as they realize that they have to shop for the groceries, cook the meal and do the dishes, they immediately disengage. The root problem originates with the speaker. Because she has not threaded the needle of her thinking, she cannot sew her ideas into the minds of her listeners. In other words, her ideas fail to click.
I never thought the day would come that I would be waxing poetic about the good old days but this idea of threading the needle transported me back to a time when the Flintstones and Woody Woodpecker were the height of animation and call waiting was considered cutting-edge technology. In the midst of the nostalgia, I can hear my grandmother yell, “get the kit,” whenever there was a wardrobe malfunction. The kit was a sturdy, red, plastic container that was home to a colorful assortment of thread. Mixed in among the neatly placed spools were several packets of needles, varying in size. When I heard “get the kit,” like Pavlov’s dogs responding to the bell, I came running because it was my job to thread the needle. According to grandma, because I had “young eyes,” it was the one instance where I wasn’t sworn away from sharp pointy objects. Thirty years later, I clearly see what she meant by young eyes. (Stay with me. I’m going somewhere with this.)
If threading the needle is the equivalent of a speaker getting her message crystal clear in her mind before sharing it with her audience, most speakers attempt to thread the needle with “granny eyes,” if at all. The result of this is usually a frustrated audience, little progress and wasted time. The question is how quickly and effectively speakers can thread the needle so that they can consistently stitch their ideas into the minds of their listeners.
The answer is surprisingly simple but not easy. First, you must get to know your audience one level below the surface. This is the equivalent of selecting the proper size needle, based on the thickness of the material you will be sewing. To accomplish this, ask yourself: where are they stuck; what pisses them off; what is the unknown, unspoken problem? Second, and most importantly, answer these four critical questions:
- What do I want my audience to know?
- What do I want my audience to feel?
- What do I want my audience to believe?
- What do I want my audience to do?
To give you a sense of how, in the development stage of your presentation, that process can provide crucial clarification of your message, here’s how I answer those questions when I’m speaking to an executive audience about the importance of becoming more clear and compelling presenters.
I want them to know that public speaking is a science that can be learned.
I want them to feel both relieved and empowered by my content.
I want them to believe that small changes can lead to big impact.
What I want them to do is temporarily suspend any fear and disbelief and fully engage.
I call this process of asking and answering those four key questions, “establishing the controlling idea of your presentation.” It is the equivalent of threading the needle and dramatically increases the odds that your audience will reap what you’re attempting to sow. (Sorry, the nerd in me couldn’t resist the mixed metaphor.)
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.