In 2005 hurricane Katrina ripped into the Gulf of Mexico and set New Orleans firmly in its cross hairs. As the storm hit and devistation mounted President George Bush reached out for somebody qualified to manage a disaster of this magnitude.
That man was Gen. Russel Honore.
A Louisiana native, Honore was an army lifer with previous flood experience, gained during his deployment in Korea. He was even reportedly born during a hurricane! 1 So it was clear that this was the right man for the job.
Something I read about him from a long forgotten source, was that during press conferences he would go in with a few points that he wished to get across, then he would hammer them home. It was a technique that stuck with me and I used to great effect on board ship. It is easy to get sidetracked during meetings or discussions and the original message you went in to deliver gets forgotten.
Want to make sure your message is received? Then follow this simple three step program:
- Tell them what you are going to tell them
- Tell them
- Tell them what you told them
Tell them what you are going to tell them
This is known as setting the stage, or the prelude.
Depending on the format of your communication this can take a few different forms:
- An introduction by a colleague
- A program description in a publication
- The About page on your website
The key is to prime the pump and let people know what they can expect. In the excellent book The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne, and the accompanying podcast, Shawn talks frequently about how we all have a natural feel for story structure as we’ve been exposed to it since early childhood. Within minutes of starting a book we already know a number of things about it; how long it’s likely to take, how it will make you feel, how the story arc will move. This is because all genre’s have certain conventions and obligitory scenes that must be met if it is going to hit all the points and leave the reader satisfied.
Public speaking is much the same and by first setting up what you are going to say you help let your audience know what to expect, which will leave them more satisfied when you are finished.
Once you have set the stage it comes time to deliver your message.
It can be nerve-racking to stand in front of a group of your peers and give a talk. The best form of protection against this is to keep things simple. Like Gen. Honore, pick a few key points, no more than three, and hammer them home repeatedly.
People tend to remember the first and last items presented on a list, a condition known as the Serial Position Effect. 2 By keeping your list short you increase the chances that they will remember that point in the middle as well. But keeping this in mind you should order your points to cover the most important last, as this will be the one most likely remembered.
Body language and presence are important to consider when speaking in front of a group, however people tend to overestimate how much others are actually thinking about them. There are numerous examples of people with arguably little presence captivating an audience. This is due to them having one key trait:
Enthusiasm for their topic.
If you can speak genuinely and enthusiastically about something you care about then it will show and your message will be well received.
Tell them what you told them
Just as every story has three acts and every essay has a thesis statement, body of supporting evidence, and a conclusion, you should always finish by repeating the main points of what you said. This is where the message truly gets hammered home.
Remember the Serial Position Effect? It doesn’t just apply to your list of points, but to the overall delivery of your topic as well. Typically it is the items mentioned last that are most readily added to our short term memory. So repeating the main thrust of what you said at the end will help people take that message to heart and (hopefully) act on it.
The key is to keep this summary short and to the point; capturing the most important ideas in an easy to remember format.
To get your message across effectively you need to
- Set the stage
- Deliver the message
- Hammer it home
(See what I did there?)
We will be digging into presentation skills more in the coming months as I have been selected to give a presentation at the annual Dynamic Positioning Conference hosted by the Marine Technology Society this year. This will be a larger group than I have ever addressed before so will offer a good chance to brush up on my presentation skills.