10/05/2011

Understand your purpose

By Peter Roper, Fellow and Past President of the Professional Speaking Association

He was wont to speak plain and to the purpose, like an honest man and a soldier.” William Shakespeare

This may appear obvious, but when someone asks you to speak you need to know why.

There are many versions of ‘why’ — but most of us tend to think ‘why me?’ However, much more important is to be clear about what is expected of you.

There are a number of reasons why people make presentations, and once you are clear about the reason you’ll find it much easier to focus on achieving your object.

The information presentation

This is where you are the means of presenting a new project, a change in strategy, launching the latest product or service your company has devised or addressing any audience that doesn’t know what you are about to tell them.

Think of this as being a ‘talking newspaper’. These sorts of presentation can be dry and boring — but that’s not how a newspaper works! Grab them with a headline, make your first paragraph a hook to keep them listening. Give them facts and figures and anecdotal evidence too (remember, People buy People).

Work on your presentation from a newspaper point of view and you’ll be well on the way to success.

To educate your audience

Arguably, this might also be classified as an ‘information presentation, however, it’s more than that. You’re not only passing on information, you’re helping people to learn — so what do you have to do to help them remember what you’re saying?

There are some scary statistics that tell us that people only remember a small part of what we say. A speaker normally says only 80% of what he/she planned to say. Only 60% of this is heard by the audience.

• After three hours only 40% is remembered

• After three days only 15% is remembered

• After three months 5% or less is remembered

You might wonder why we bother! However, the more involvement you get, the more that figure improves.

Visual aids — as long as they are visual aids, not your presentation notes on PowerPoint slides — work very well. People relate well to pictures, charts, diagrams, etc.

With visual input the figures are:

• After three days 60% is remembered

• After three months 40—50% is remembered

That’s not all — if you provide handouts or notes that figure improves further, especially if you have managed to get your audience to write on them. This means that:

• After three days 80% is remembered

• After three months 60—70% is remembered

So you know what you need to do if your presentation is aimed at education.

Arguably, this might also be classified as an 'information presentation', however, it’s more than that. You’re not only passing on information, you’re helping people to learn — so what do you have to do to help them remember what you’re saying?

There are some scary statistics that tell us that people only remember a small part of what we say. A speaker normally says only 80% of what he/she planned to say. Only 60% of this is heard by the audience.

• After three hours only 40% is remembered

• After three days only 15% is remembered

• After three months 5% or less is remembered


You might wonder why we bother! However, the more involvement you get, the more that figure improves.

Visual aids — as long as they are visual aids, not your presentation notes on PowerPoint slides — work very well. People relate well to pictures, charts, diagrams, etc.

With visual input the figures are:

• After three days 60% is remembered

• After three months 40—50% is remembered

That’s not all — if you provide handouts or notes that figure improves further, especially if you have managed to get your audience to write on them. This means that:

• After three days 80% is remembered

• After three months 60—70% is remembered

So you know what you need to do if your presentation is aimed at education.

The ‘Turn’

Sometimes the role of the presenter is simply to entertain. This is less common in business, but not nearly as rare as you might think.

Now and then there will be a delegation that nobody knows what to do with for a half hour between meetings. An unsuspecting member of one of the management teams is usually dragged in to ‘give them an idea of what your lot do’ — make it interesting, keep it light.

The secret of entertaining talks is to tell stories. Now, that means putting the human beings in the front line! Don’t talk about the systems and numbers, talk about Jenny and George and Shahin. Use the people to explain how the department operates; tell anecdotes about how something came about.

This is the key to making it interesting — or entertaining.


The second edition of ‘…and Death Came Third! The Definitive Guide to Networking and Speaking in Public’ is published on May 11th by Ecademy Press. You can purchase your copy on Amazon

A Fellow and Past President of the Professional Speaking Association, Peter is claimed by many to be the UK’s leading expert in ‘Natural Presentation’. He has presented to well over 400,000 people internationally and for a wealth of different organisations. Peter specialises in working with both individuals and organisations to enhance and enrich business development skills.

Based in rural Shropshire, Peter is the “Honorary Chairman” of the family business Positive Ground Ltd. www.positiveground.co.uk