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Take Risks and Add New Power to Your Presentations
by Chris King

Long ago I heard speakers who advocated, “Have one speech and just find different audiences.” That may have worked years ago, but today’s audiences are expecting more from us. Even if you have a tested, surefire winner of a presentation, it is time to ask yourself if you are too comfortable. It is probably time to try something new — force yourself to take some risks.

Start by asking yourself some questions? It is OK to have a distinctive style of your own, but it is also a growing experience to step out of our comfort zone and try something new. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I always use the same techniques?
  • Do I usually tell the same stories?
  • Do I plan my presentations following a specified structure?
  • Do I use the same or similar handouts?
  • Do I have tried and true visuals that I use over and over again?
  • Do I have a particular topic or topics that I always speak about?

If you answered “yes” to any or all of the above questions, I suggest that it is time for you to take some risks.

Try some outlandish techniques. We are all told to involve the audience. Many speakers feel that asking for a show of hands is enough involvement. Not so. Think about clever ways to move participants to action and interaction. One speaker I know hands out a mini-quiz on her topic as people enter the room, and then starts her presentation by having people share their answers with each other and the whole group. Another speaker who stresses the importance of “asking” starts by asking everyone to take out a dollar bill and then goes around collecting them. If someone only has a five, ten, or twenty, he says “That’s OK. No problem.” He does return the money after making the point that when “one asks, one receives.” Other presenters have participants sing along or chant a phrase in unison. Being a fitness instructor who also speaks about creativity, I will often start a session with aerobic music and then get everyone up onto his/her feet to stretch — following with the quotation by Oliver Wendell Holmes, “The human mind once stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original dimensions.”

Develop some new stories. Yes, I know that we all have strong stories that have gotten better and better with the telling and retelling, but it is time to develop some brand new stories too. I don’t suggest changing everything, but if you can add one new story for each presentation, you will keep them fresh and exciting for both you and the audience.

Change your pre-planning of presentation structure. I know that in other articles I have stressed the importance of preparation. I am not changing my mind about preparing. I am suggesting that you prepare in a different way. If you have always used the method of “Tell them what you are going to tell them; tell them; and then tell them what you told them,” think of ways you can turn that formula on its side. Or, if you rely upon outlines including the three most important points, try the free association method of mind mapping or clustering (I will write a future article about this creative and helpful technique).

Update and upgrade your handouts. I know, I’ve been there. It is so much easier and more efficient to make minor changes on the computer to your saved handouts, thus using basically the same format over and over again. After all, we spent lots of time in the beginning researching, writing, tweaking, and creating those super handouts. Unfortunately, that was in the “beginning” and, hopefully, we have grown past that stage. Take a hard, critical look at what you have been handing out to your audience. Could they be shorter and punchier? The long ones are usually filed away and never looked at again. Maybe all you need to hand out is a sheet of resources — recommended links, books and tapes.

Reevaluate your visuals. If you use a lot of visuals, maybe it is time to use fewer with snappier meanings. If they are serious, maybe it is time for some cartoons. As Tom Antion mentioned in his article on using humor, people who laugh with you establish rapport with you and will appreciate your presentation more. If you don’t use visuals, think about what type of visual would enhance your presentation. Remember the old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” If you are using visuals made up of words, think about pictures. The word “cow” doesn’t look like a cow.

Try a brand new topic or approach to a topic. I know that all of the books and speaking gurus stress the value of becoming an expert in a particular field, and I do believe in the importance of that theory. I feel, however, that if you attack a brand new topic — and possibly present it to a different audience for free — you might discover ways to enhance your usual topic and/or topics. Everything is related, and by researching a whole new field, you may find a whole new approach to and way to strengthen what you already are familiar with presenting.

So, take some risks. Try something new and fresh. You will find that you, your presentations, and your audiences will become invigorated with enthusiasm. Have fun!

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