“Daddy, will you help me with my speech?”
That’s how it began. My 10-year-old daughter Annie was running for secretary of the fifth-grade class of Dunwoody Springs Elementary School. All the candidates would have to deliver a speech the next day to the entire class in the school cafeteria. Annie first showed her talk to her mother, who promptly passed her on to her father, the professional communication skills coach.
How Annie crafted her winning speech is a lesson in how to simplify a topic and deliver an easy-to-understand presentation.
Annie’s first draft was a complicated mess. It was a single confusing paragraph with many conflicting ideas. I couldn’t understand it and I told her so. Of course, I suspect that I delivered my critique in a tone of voice that was a little too blunt for a 10-year-old. When I finished delivering my initial feedback, Annie burst into tears, ran up to her room, and slammed the door.
When I persuaded her to open the door, I apologized and sat down next to her on the bed. “O.K. Annie,” I said. “Let’s put your speech away for a second. Tell me three short sentences that you want your classmates to remember about you.”
Deciding on Three Core Sentences
Wiping away the tears, Annie sat for a moment and then said, “I’m going to work hard. I’m going to listen to the students. And I’m going to make sure that we clean the bathrooms.”
“OK. Sit down at the computer and type out those three sentences,” I said. “Call me when you’re done.”
When she was done, I had her place those sentences at the beginning of three paragraphs that would form the core of her speech. In each paragraph I had her give examples or stories that supported her point. In support of her point that she is “going to work hard,” she said that she always does her homework and practices piano (she didn’t mention that her parents sometimes need to pester her to do those things).
Once she had written her three paragraphs, she added an opening and a closing asking for her classmates’ votes.
A Simple Process to Help Focus Any Speech
This is the same process that I’ve used hundreds of times in helping my clients. I worked recently with a software salesman. Like Annie with her stump speech, he was struggling to create a simple pitch. I asked him, “If your prospect could remember only three short sentences about your product, what would you want those sentences to be?”
He thought for a moment and then said, “We can lower your costs. We can increase your revenues. And we can make the end-user experience easier.” The salesman filled out the presentation with stories and examples of how his product delivered on the promises of those three sentences.
For attorneys, the process is the same. For a speech on protecting trade secrets, ask yourself “What are the three simple sentences about trade secret protection that I really want my client to remember?” Those sentences will be the core of your message.
Next time you have to create a presentation, begin with the three core statements that your audience must remember if they remember nothing else. It will help you sell your ideas and may even help you win secretary of your fifth-grade class.
Joey Asher has worked with thousands of business people helping them learn how to communicate in a way that connects with clients. His new book 15 Minutes Including Q&A: a Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations” is available now. He is also the author three previous books including “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals That Will Distinguish You from the Competition”, “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers” and “Even A Geek Can Speak.”