When people listen to you speak, they search first and foremost for "the meaning of what you say." If listeners can't find meaning, or if it takes too long for you to arrive at the meaning, or worse, there isn't any meaning, they will interrupt you, disengage, or leave. One sure-fire way to add meaning to your message is structure. When you organize your thoughts into a logical easy-to-follow format, your audience understands your point and stays engaged. Plus, good structure helps you stay on track, on time, and avoids rambling. Though there are many ways to structure content, here are five audience favorites:
1. Step-by-step. Robert, a real estate broker, was invited to speak to a group of prospective first-time homebuyers. Despite the myriad of details involved in the process of buying a house, he narrowed the scope to address only the most relevant important points for his audience. He entitled his presentation, "Three Simple Steps to Take Before Buying a Home."
- Step 1. Order your credit reports
- Step 2. Gather your financial documents
- Step 3. Create a budget
2. Alliteration. Donna, the president of a large management-consulting firm, presents to corporate executives on how to improve their operational and workplace performance. She has organized her entire one-day workshop into a memorable structure called, "The Three Ps of Performance."
3. Top three benefits. Known as the 'WIIFM" approach, this method answers the listener's number one question: "What's In It For Me?" Sam, a top account manager for a major supply chain company, had been knocking on his prospect's door for six months. When Sam finally cinched a 30-minute appointment with the chief operating officer, he was ready. Sam did not do a data dump and ramble on about his 73 products. Instead, he structured a 15-minute presentation around the top three benefits his solutions deliver. Sam opened by saying, "Allow me to briefly share how Acme's solutions are guaranteed to increase your operational efficiency, lower your total cost of ownership, and improve your customer satisfaction." Sam spent about five minutes on each benefit, with 15 minutes remaining for questions and discussion. It was no surprise that the CIO asked Sam and his team of experts to return the two weeks later for a half-day demo, which won the prospect's business.
4. General to specific:
Kevin, a senior vice president of sales, presented year-end results at his company's national sales meeting. He opted to build anticipation by progressively moving from overall company results, to regional, and finally to specific personal results, which determined bonus checks. At the third point he asked, "So now. . .would you like to hear what these results mean to you?" The sales force cheered. His presentation content was structured under these three headings:
- Company results (general)
- Regional results (more specific)
- Individual employee results (very specific)
: When you want your audience to memorize your message, structure your points using a mnemonic device. For example, stroke physicians developed the acronym F.A.S.T. as an easy way to remember the sudden signs of stroke. The American Heart Association now uses it to educate the public:
ace drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb?
rm weakness: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
peech difficulty: Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand?
ime to call 9-1-1: If someone shows any of these symptoms, get the person to the hospital immediately.
In the business context, consider the well-known goal-setting technique, S.M.A.R.T:
Target a specific area for improvement
Quantify an indicator of progress
Specify who will do it
: State what results can realistically be achieved
: Pinpoint a completion date or time
When you take the time to really "learn the meaning of what you say," organize that meaning into a logical easy-to-follow structure, and "and then speak," your audience will gain value from your message, and you will most likely gain their attention, respect, and commitment.
You may also enjoy reading these past articles, which relate to structure and organization:
The Rule of Three:
Three Proven Openers to Capture Audience Attention:
A Three-Step Closing That Makes Your Message Memorable:
If you would like to learn even more ways to structure your content and deliver a powerful persuasive presentation, please read my book Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results (available in Hardcover, Kindle, and Audio).
Feel free to contact me directly to schedule an in-house corporate training event for your team. I would be honored to support your presentation and communication success.