Over the past 25 years, as I have worked with individuals, teams and companies on how to be persuasive in front of groups to buy your message, I am always asked the quickest way to be successful.
My comment is always the same, have a solid process behind your message and practice, practice, and then more practice.
When I wrote, thankfully now a bestselling book, Persuading for Results, with Gary Peacock we wanted to help people in front of both small groups and large audiences to be successful. The book is full of many good ideas as well as a range of planning tools.
When consulting on live pitches or delivering workshops, I use a lot of stories to engage with the team or participants, but also to show the power of combining logic and emotion to enhance engagement. I often use examples of successful leaders and have always steered clear of political leaders, stars or royalty for a whole lot of reasons, mainly because everybody has a fixed opinion about the person.
However, occasionally I make exceptions to my own rules, which we all do in every facet of our life and I want to comment on the recent visit of the Duke & Duchess of Sussex, aka Harry and Meghan, to Australia.
I missed their wedding because I was busy doing work on my farm, but hear it was a great success. Their recent visit to Australia and Harry’s involvement with the Invictus Games is worth a positive comment.
Harry’s opening speech at the forecourt of the Opera House in Sydney when opening the 2018 Invictus Games is a great example of the five stages of preparing for a persuasive presentation.
The Five Stages of the Process
Even if you watched Harry’s speech at the opening of the Invictus Games, please rewatch it so my comments will make more sense:
1. Understand the Audience. The first step in the presentation process is to understand your audience. Who are they? What are their attitudes, aspirations and beliefs? What do you want the audience to do next? Answer these questions, then summarise your message and the response you want from the audience in one sentence.
Harry knew who was attending the event and how he intended to connect with them. As the founder of the games, his passion was going to drive the success of his speech.
2. Research Data. Next, research your subject.
As the founder, Harry didn’t need to spend much time here. But he needed to understand the connection of the games to Australia - the significance of where he was making his speech and the connection to the Aboriginal people, past and present.
3. Write Close. In our seminars, the timing of this stage often raises some eyebrows and hands. People ask two questions— “Why is this stage here?” and “How can I write the close now?”
The ‘why’ question is simple to answer.
When Persuading for Results, the two most important stages of the presentation are the close and the opening. Audience members tend to concentrate and to remember these short sections of your presentation. However, many presenters do not spend enough time on these critical stages, because the presenter has only a small amount of preparation time left for the close, because of spending too much time on the content. So, we suggest that you write the close ﬁrst. It helps focus your attention on the outcome you want from the presentation and makes you more ruthless when culling content. From our experience, you will save between 30% and 50% of your preparation time if you write the close ﬁrst.
At this stage, the close does not have to be word-perfect. However, the close must clearly show how the evidence leads to the action you want the audience to take. The clearer your thinking, the better the close, which is key to Persuading for Results.
Harry had a strong call to action, asking Aussies to get involved and make this a great event for everyone.
4. Write Opening. Similar to the close the opening is a critical time determine the audience’s initial impression of the presenter. In the opening, you must capture the attention of the audience and connect with their interests. Most of the information necessary is available from a previous stage ‘understanding the audience’. In essence, you must answer one question for the audience, “Why should I listen to you?”
Harry was excellent in his opening, connecting the event to his Grandmother Queen Elizabeth and the personal significance to him.
5. Structure Your Content. Your presentation should be structured carefully. You don’t need to dazzle your audience with dozens of facts. Just let them know where the presentation is heading, so they can prepare themselves for the journey. Some of the most effective presenters appear very relaxed and natural but have a very clear structure. Their skill is in making the structure flow in a way that looks effortless.
Prince Harry structured his speech by beginning with reminding everyone of his active service, so connecting him to his audience. I had forgotten about his active duty, so I have him even more credible by the reminder. Sometimes as presenters, we forget to enhance our credibility during a speech.
During the planning stage, think about what you want the audience to remember from the presentation. Psychologists tell us that most people can remember between three and seven things in their short-term memory. The number varies with interest, attention, intelligence and fatigue.
Harry’s delivery was excellent, and he used the stage well. His process was sound, and it was obvious that he was well prepared. However, the thing that impressed me most about the young Prince was his dedication to practice, practice and then more practice. The photo of him practising his speech to a sea of empty chairs, bar one, which was Meghan, was inspirational.
When your good on your feet, you can get away with a lot of things, when you are exceptional on your feet, you leave nothing to chance. Harry not only practised his message but he also marked the stage to know where he was going to walk and how far he would make the boundary.
I will remember his speech to officially open the Invictus Games 2018, forever, not just because of his speech but because of his practice beforehand to make the speech so powerful.
I will use it in the future as an example, on how great presenters never deliver an inspirational speech without a process and heaps of practice. I will also smile at the solo figure of Meghan in the sea of empty chairs and realise that even a Prince needs encouragement and support.