I’ve been playing with a number of interesting techniques lately to develop powerful, focused messages.
The Elevator Speech
Most of us are now familiar with the “elevator pitch“, a 30 second summary of who you are and what your message is. In the context of job-hunting, this is commonly used to create a powerful mental image of why someone should hire you.
If you’ve used this technique for awhile, you may have noticed that there’s a few disadvantages. Over time, the message can get a bit stale, both for the speaker and the listener. Part of the problem is that we tend to create these pitches based on what we want to SAY rather than what the other person wants to HEAR. One listener might be more interested in your enthusiasm and communication skills, while another wants to know about your job experience.
In reality, you don’t want to convey who you are in 30 seconds. Instead, you want to open a conversation with the other person, so they can learn from you and you can learn from them. This is done by creating the opportunity for questions.
Which of these opening statements would cause you to want to ask more questions?
- “I’m a business coach, working with small business owners running companies of 5-50 employees.”
- “I help business owners to solve their most critical issues.”
- “I help people to build companies designed to be at the top of their particular industry.”
- “I helped the owner of an architecture firm to bring his company back from the edge of bankruptcy as others in construction-related industries are dying left and right.”
Your preference might differ, but I’ve found that introductions which leave a question hanging in the air will do much better at starting a meaningful discussion.
The New Business Card
Another recent idea I’ve seen is called the “business card résumé.” No, it’s not photocopying your two page résumé down to three inches tall. Instead, this technique captures a few essential, compelling messages in a format that may be memorable. It’s really more like a brochure with three or four bullet points, plus your picture or logo and contact details.
To get some ideas, go to VistaPrint and look for “folded business cards.” Think about how you might deliver a powerful message using this smaller format.
I’ve also seen some very creative people who have produced CD-ROM presentations where the media is the size of a business card, or some other creative shape. Especially for those who want their artistic side to stand out, this can be a spectacular way to make a strong impression.
Of course, a newer version of that is to create a YouTube video. It’s a wonderful tool, but you should watch out for what the broader impression is that you’re giving. First, everyone knows that YouTube is free and contains a lot of, well, lesser material. If you’re trying to come across as professional, you might want to spring for other video services such as Vimeo. Second, while it’s easy to create a video, it’s not easy to create one that’s watchable and compelling. So if you’re serious about using video for business or professional purposes, you should at least get some good sound advice from people who have that experience. Perhaps even hire them to produce something for you.
I’ve also been experimenting with several presentation techniques which break the usual paradigm of endless bullet-pointed slides. Either with the same boring generic clipart, or so much movement and sound that it obscures your important messages.
To help break through this, go watch some of the excellent TED videos or presentations by Steve Jobs. You’ll see that presenters’ messages can be far more powerful when they use images which are straightforward and emotionally compelling. Not a lot of words.
Pecha-Kucha is an interesting technique that’s being tested by many people. The presentation is exactly 20 slides of exactly 20 seconds apiece. Do the math, and you see that it’s a presentation of exactly 6 minutes 40 seconds.
Then you stop. That’s it.
Certainly one of the things that could draw you toward this idea is that it’s interesting, unusual, fun, and challenging. I’m working on a presentation right now, and have uncovered several surprises:
- The hard part is figuring out exactly what story I’m trying to tell in 6:40. I’m an experienced presenter so it’s easy for me to talk for an hour. Because I can’t squeeze an hour presentation into 6:40, I have to change my approach. I can tell one story, make one important point, and I’m done.
- I find I have to write the story first. With PowerPoint, I usually write the slides first and then put the words to them. But with P-K, I write the words of the story that fits in 6:40, then find images which will help reinforce my message.
- People can’t read too many words in 20 seconds, and while they’re reading, they’re not paying attention. So my ideal slides have no words. OK, maybe five.
- I HAVE to write a script. I find that I’ve become quite lazy in my presentation style, able to add or remove entire concepts on the fly as strikes my fancy. To keep on track with slides which are advancing themselves, I have to figure out how I’m going to deliver my message, and then stick to it.
Now I’m beginning to understand why Steve Jobs practices his presentations so much. It’s not because he can’t deliver extemporaneously – in fact he does that quite well. Instead, it delivers a much more powerful message because he’s using the right words, great images, the right inflections, and careful body language.
Do you want your next presentation to have the power of a strong, focused message? Think beyond the convenience of how you’re using PowerPoint right now.
It’s not about the words. It’s about the message.
by Carl Dierschow