A Powerful Message in the Middle

Now that you have a powerful audience-centric Introduction and Summary, let’s focus on your Message in the Middle. As we’ve discussed, your Intro and Summary account for 15 – 20% of your total presentation time, including Q&A. Now, it’s time to ‘tell ‘em’ your message for 80 – 85% of your time with credibility, competence and confidence.

Recalling the Main Point/Sub Point organizational strategy from a previous article, you now turn that plan into action. For each Sub Point in the body of your presentation, ask yourself what information the audience needs and wants to hear to totally understand and accept it. Every fact you could share must pass the ‘Who cares?’ test … and the ‘Who’ isn’t you. It’s them.

You have a lot of content options in your Presenter’s Tool Kit to consider as you build out those Sub Points. Chief among them are statistics, quotes, examples, anecdotes, expert testimony, comparisons and analogies.

  • Since management-speak is all about numbers, much of your body may be statistics. And while statistics never lie, statisticians do often and well. So, make sure the stats are clear and relevant for your audience. The more you need to explain the significance of a stat, the less effective it probably is.
  • Err on the side of brevity. Most audience members want the 30,000-foot big picture anyway. A major data dump inflicting death by numbers can kill you momentum and enthusiasm. With a ‘Less Is More’ strategy, your fallback is always ‘If they want more details, they’ll ask for them.’ Just be sure to have the data available if they do ask.
  • When using a quote, indicate who the author is, except where it’s obvious. For example, ‘Sales is all about asking, not telling’, Buck Rogers, might not mean much to the audience unless you tell them that Buck Rogers was the SVP of Sales at IBM in the ‘80s. When in doubt, answer their question ‘Who’s that?’
  • Stories can be memorable; Varsity Presenters are usually great storytellers. But, be sure your stories, examples or anecdotes are short, focused and clearly connected to a point you’re making. ‘Less Is More’ works here, too.
  •  Another component of your message is the language you use itself. Remember to speak their language, especially if they don’t speak yours. Use simple, conversational audience-centric words, phrases and jargon. If you must use an acronym, go beyond spelling it out and define in in simple English.
  • Learn a simple technique from the Varsity Presenters. Instead of connecting Sub Points in a linear manner, ‘A’ – ‘B’ – ‘C’, reconnect each to your Main Point to reinforce it, ‘A’ – MP – ‘B’ – MP – ‘C’. The rationale is the more often they hear a concept, the greater the chance they’ll remember it.

While you may not have the time to do it right, you will have to find the time to do it over when your presentation misfires or the big dog isn’t happy with it. Whatever amount of time you can justify creating your message, spend 25% of it on the planning details we’ve already discussed, 25% on your Power Intro and Summary, 40% on building out your ‘Message in the Middle’ and 10% on your visual aids and PowerPoint

Now, some Best Practices to help you accomplish your presentation outcomes.

  • Presentations fall into three broad categories: informational or ‘Telll’ messages, persuasive or ‘Sell’ messages and Motivational, or ‘Yell’ messages. Since the outcome will be different, even if the audience is the same, plan your ‘Message in the Middle’ accordingly.
  • Even with a purely informational presentation, there’s usually a small ‘Sell’ message connected with it. If you’re telling an employee group about the heightened workplace security measures and the new procedure to follow, it usually helps to remind them why it’s important and what’s in it for them with a brief ‘Sell’ message.
  • Each Sub-Point is a mini-presentation unto itself. Each has a brief introduction that overviews the purpose and content to follow and a brief summary, potentially reconnecting with the Main Point before moving on to the next Sub Point.
  • Simple transitional phrases or ‘guide posts’ should help the audience move from one content point to the next, such as ‘Our next example …’, ‘The third potential cause of the problem is …’ or ‘Now, let’s look at the impact of … ‘ An essential audience-centric technique, these transitions make it easy for the audience to stay on track with your message. They’ll appreciate your courtesy.
  • The sequence of Sub Points depends on your outcome and audience needs. With a persuasive proposal, it’s typically ‘Problem – Causes – Solutions – Recommendation – Implementation.’ Some messages fare better with a ‘Yesterday – Today – Tomorrow’ approach. Informational messages often take the journalism focus of ‘Who – What – Where – When – Why’.
  • If there’s no obvious logical sequence that makes sense, consider leading with your strongest Sub-Point, the one you’d use if you only could have one. End with your second strongest and put the weakest in the middle.
  • When you build out the content points for each Sub-Point, list every one you could mention. Force-rank them first to last based on audience needs and impact. Then, cut from the bottom up to fit your time limit. Better to have only two or three strong ones than so many that they lose impact.
  • In a written proposal, you might have some references listed at the end with appropriate in-text citations or footnotes. With an oral proposal, the audience needs to directly connect the source with the fact, comment or statistic. Don’t just rely on the small print footnote on your slide – verbalize it.
  • For example, say something like ‘The 2007 NLRB Trends Study indicates … ‘, ‘According to management expert and author Tom Peters … ‘ or ‘When XYZ Inc. tried this program, CFO Diane Wilson offered these observations … ‘. Bottom line, never let the audience ask themselves ‘Says who?’ or ‘Who’s that?’ That self-talk distracts them from listening and might erode the credibility of your message.

Add these Best Practices to your Presenter’s Tool Kit to make sure your Message in the Middle accomplishes your presentation outcomes with your target audience. It’s what they need and want to hear to understand and accept your Main Point. If it sounds like a lot of work, you’re right. But that’s what it takes to make the Varsity Presenter Team. Good luck – tryouts are coming up soon.

Want some help making the Team … give me a call at 440 449-0356. It would be my pleasure to empower you to communicate with more credibility, competence … and confidence!