Imagine that you only had 15 minutes to share a professional success story. What would you want your audience to remember?
In a recent coaching session with eight business leaders, participants were given this assignment. Each had to develop a 15-minute presentation about an organizational success story, a project in which they had played a key role. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, as these leaders soon discovered, everything hinges on sharing your unique perspective — your UP — and this is not as easy as it sounds.
To understand the challenge better, consider more of the context: these eight leaders were to deliver their presentations at an internal leadership conference. The executive team chose these leaders believing that, through their stories, they could inspire listeners to adopt the leadership qualities that each had demonstrated. Way beyond a “show and tell” exercise, this was an opportunity to empower others to create success stories.
For many of the presenters, this would be a defining moment in their careers. Yet, as I listened to them practice, it was clear that nothing about any one of these eight presentations was remotely memorable. Each leader could have been anyone, anywhere, sharing a briefing on just about any business case.
If these leaders wanted to elevate their message and engage their audiences, they needed to add in the missing ingredient.
The missing ingredient
It was easy to identify why each participant had been identified as a standout leader in their organization. Every participant knew and described in great detail what it took to accomplish what they had done, the results and the lessons learned. Clearly, they each had wisdom to share.
In short, they had done an impressive job of plugging their facts into a “template” of a successful case study. What they didn’t include, however, was what made their story special — what set them apart from the other seven presenters or leaders outside of their organization. This was the missing ingredient.
By placing so much emphasis on the facts, each presenter had failed to capture the essence of what made their story unique. Leaning on facts rather than perspective meant a lost opportunity to make their story inspiring and memorable for the audience. I don’t mean to imply that the specifics were unimportant. Quite the contrary, it’s precisely because the facts were important that they needed to find ways to make them unforgettable.
The same is true for all high-stakes presentations. This key differentiator can be referred to as your unique perspective.
UP: A definition
When you aspire to give a presentation that sparks change and moves listeners to take action, rather than passively absorbing your ideas, being clear and succinct isn’t enough. Like the eight leaders I coached, you’ll start by creating your content, but you can’t stop there. You also need to “up” the value of your message by sharing your unique perspective, or UP.
In presenters’ terms, think of your UP as a single sentence that clearly summarizes the essence of your presentation in 10 words or less. The unique perspective provides focus and differentiates your story from others the audience has heard.
When my clients finished their run-through, they were asked to consider:
- What was it about this project that really got you excited?
- What is your key takeaway message?
- What do you want your listeners to say or do as a result of your presentation?
- What makes your story truly unique?
At first, they seemed baffled. But soon each came to realize that his or her presentation was not having the desired effect — motivating listeners to create their own personal success stories.
Creating your UP is not as easy as it sounds, but I find that a simple shift in mindset can really get the creative juices flowing. If you’re focused on the facts and communicating the details of your story, it’s easy to get wrapped up in wanting to tell everything you know. If you focus instead on carving out the core message of your presentation, you may find that your UP bubbles up to the surface.
To begin crafting your UP, think in simple sentences rather than more complex ones. Remember, your audience needs to be able to hear and digest what you are saying if they’re to remember it, so be as succinct as possible. Next, give some thought to the following:
- If my audience doesn’t remember anything else, what one single thought [less than 10 words] do I want them to recall and repeat?
- By the end of this presentation, my audience will [fill in the blank].
A happy ending to the story
As my clients happily discovered, identifying their UPs made for a more compelling story — and a positive, dynamic reaction from their listeners. You can think of your UP as your presentation’s GPS. If you were going on a trip with a particular destination in mind, you wouldn’t hop in the car and start driving aimlessly. You would plug your destination into your GPS and follow the route.
The same is true for preparing for those all-important presentations. By defining your UP at the very start of your preparation process and building your presentation from there, you’ll know just where you’re going — and exactly where your audience will end up.
Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stakes presentations. She has over 30 years’ experience mentoring every level of professional, from newly minted executives up through the C-suite echelons and into the president’s cabinet. Today she is a trusted consultant and speaker coach for companies ranging from early-stage start-up to Fortune 500. She has also developed a strong following at elite institutions such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Duke University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, as well as serving as a TEDx speaker coach.
Her first book, “Talk on Water: Attaining the Mindset for Powerhouse Presentations,” was a #1 Hot New Release in Business Communications on Amazon in 2018. She is a regular contributor to SmartBrief, the leading digital publisher of targeted business news. Learn more at www.professionallyspeaking.net and www.professionallyspeakingblog.com.
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