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2 Most Important Pieces of Presentations: Have a Take and Don't Suck

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Your name has been called. An idea needs a champion and the organization has turned to you to deliver the hard-hitting message. It's true -- you are not an experienced public speaker and you have some serious misgivings about the assignment, but you are determined to succeed.

I lost count long ago of how many times I have spoken in public, but I remember learning two pieces of advice from sports talk celebrity Jim Rome: Have a take and don't suck.

I am going on the assumption that you already have a topic -- or a "take," if you will -- so I will address the "don't suck" part of the equation. I am experienced at both sucking and not sucking on stage!

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Follow these six steps for a killer presentation that will leave a lasting impression:

1. Establish the tone. The opening moments of your presentation will set the tone for the rest of your speech. A powerful introduction makes an audience want to listen more intently. A boring opening will send them into an "oh, no!" state of mind.

The most important aspect of a good opening is strong, positive energy. You want to hit the stage with just the right amount of enthusiasm -- but no more.

Think about what an audience normally expects and then dial up the energy level by two notches. If they are used to a dry experience, make it pleasant. If they are used to a pleasant but mild experience, make it upbeat and bouncy.

You don't have to be some kind of Jack Russell terrier on Red Bull to pull this off, but you must effectively dictate the energy level of the room.

2. Lead the audience to conviction. Once you have set the tone, you will need to focus on the journey of the audience. Making a presentation is very much like telling a story, and every good story involves some conflict.

Begin by inviting your listeners to be introspective about their own experiences. You cannot offer a solution until you have identified a problem. Lead the audience on a journey of discovery, and get them to agree that change is necessary.

3. Throw in a plot twist. At this point, your audience will have a strong sense of where you are going, and in all likelihood, they will also have an idea about the solution you are about to propose. So try this: go somewhere different.

When Steve Jobs first introduced the iPhone, the audience was expecting the presentation to be about the phone. It wasn't. Jobs talked much more about the apps. The surprise factor drew the audience in and made the presentation memorable.

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What idea, initiative, challenge or thought-provoker can you throw in that the audience has not already considered? Get them chewing on the plot twist and you will have them in the palm of your hand.

4. Offer a resolution. Of course, every good presentation should lead to some sort of behavioral change. Tell your audience what you think should happen, but don't stop there. Give them some very specific step-by-step instructions on how to proceed.

This is where you really make your mark with a group. Think through the application and follow-up steps for your listeners. They will thank you for it.

5. Provide a mantra. Unfortunately, people are forgetful. Even if we hear a presentation that challenges and resonates with us, it is just plain hard to remember the substance of most presentations. If you want your message to be sticky and memorable, consider a mantra that your audience can recite with you. The idea is to pick something meaningful.

For example, "Stay positive!" is far too pithy to be memorable. But suppose they walked away having recited, "When we focus on perfection, we get disappointment. When we focus on progress we get invigorated."

There's an added bonus to having a mantra: it gives the attendees an answer to the question they will hear later in the day. "So what was the topic?" A really good mantra makes its way into the vernacular of the organization.

6. Challenge for change. Close with a challenge to do something and a promise of a great result. Far too many speeches come to a dead stop with, "Thank you very much." Instead, recount the challenge from step four (resolution) and make a promise.

Wouldn't you rather have a speech end with the following: "I know it's asking a lot, but if we apply our best thinking to these serious customer-care issues, we can make a difference. We can change their world."

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