by Steve Adubato, PhD

Consider what lots of people in business say when they are asked or required by management to take a workshop or seminar in 'presentation skills.' "I don't think I need presentation skills training because I don't make speeches very often in my job. I'm just one of those people who likes to stay in the background and not speak in public."

Fact is, virtually everything we do is a presentation of some sort. As soon as you walk into a room where a meeting is being held, you are presenting. The way you shake hands, the way you sit in the meeting, the tone of your voice-it's all about presentation. Consider that even if you don't think you're engaged in "public speaking" for your job, you are asked and often required to make presentations about a project you are working on or an unresolved issue in your organization. Often people just start talking without any clear focus or agenda. If you ask them what the main message is, they often say, "I don't really know what my message is" or "I never thought about it." Well, you must have a message in everything you do when it comes to public communication.

We all know people who drone on in meetings or other business settings hoping that sooner or later they will trip over what they really wanted to say. But this approach often leads nowhere because even if you find your main message, by that point most of your audience of either one, five, ten or more have zoned out and tuned you out. In an effort to avoid embarrassing yourself and looking bad in front of your peers or bosses, next time you are asked to "present" consider the following four questions that will help you focus what you say and have the greatest impact on who you say it to.

  • What is my main message? Put another way, if my audience forgets everything else I say except one thing, what do I want them to remember? Once you've answered this question, your job is to hammer away at that point. Repeat it more than you are inclined to do right now. Repetition often produces recollection. The message is not the same as the topic you are speaking on. For example, your topic may be education, but your message is that for too long too many poor and underprivileged children have been denied a quality education and all of us, particularly them, are suffering because of it.
  • How do I really feel about my message on a personal and human level? The key is to tap into your passion and emotion and make sure those feelings are communicated to your audience. Even if people don't agree with everything you're saying, if they feel your passion, they are inclined to keep an open mind.
  • What will move, motivate and inspire my audience? Once you have found your passion, you want to tap into the passion of your audience with respect to your message. To ignore this causes you to run the risk of losing your audience because your message is simply not in sync with their needs or wants. The key is to empathize with those you are trying to connect with. You can't do this if you don't care.
  • What exactly do I want my audience to do in response to my message? Once you've gotten peoples' interest with your message and your passion, don't leave them hanging trying to figure out what the next step is. Tell them directly. For example, "in order to improve education for our poorest children, each of us must…"

These four questions should be asked by everyone who communicates in the world of work. You don't have to be making a "speech" to have them work for you because it's all about presentation.