Professional Communication: A Blueprint for Your Success

As you progress in your career and take on leadership roles, you must be able to speak comfortably and with confidence in public.

For some of us public speaking is as natural as breathing. And for others it’s met with more trepidation than jumping out of an airplane.

Whether you need to address a small sales staff of three people or to make a formal presentation with visuals to a department of thousands, there is a method to preparing yourself that will help insure your success.

And if you’re someone who doesn’t yet have to do any public speaking, use this knowledge to evaluate others who speak to you. You’ll be able to pinpoint why their speech or meeting didn’t go so well, or why you were captivated by them from the start.

Written communication delivered by letter, memo, or email is two-dimensional. The words exist on paper or on the computer screen all by themselves. The reader can only interpret the writer’s intent, emotion, or innuendo from the text.

But oral communication is much more complex and persuasive because it’s three-dimensional. You see or hear the speaker in addition to the content of their message. How the speaker uses eye contact, facial expression, body movements, voice tone and inflection all influence how their presentation is perceived and remembered.

A good speech is organized with three basic components in mind:

1. Introduction

2. Body

3. Conclusion

The Introduction of a presentation has 5 sub-parts:

A. Get Attention – the moment people see you, they’re beginning to form a judgment about you and what they think you’re going to say. To gain your audience’s attention, you must be creative in how you begin your presentation. A good speaker will start off with an interesting fact, a statement or question that seems contradictory or offbeat, or with something that makes listeners laugh. This perks them up, captures their eyes and ears, and enables listeners to give you their maximum concentration.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the wife of Charles Lindbergh said “Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.”

So think about how you can serve up your own form of espresso right from the start.

B. Why Listen – after capturing their attention, the goal is to persuade your audience why they need to keep listening to you. To do this, you have to effectively communicate what your information is going to do for the listeners. It could be to keep them safe from harm, save them money, or to improve their success on the job. Remember that your audience will be engaged only when they understand how your information will impact them personally.

C. Thesis – after you’ve convinced listeners why they need to continue listening, tell them exactly what you’re going to prove to them in your upcoming information. This can be thought of as a summary of the Body of the presentation that’s coming after the Introduction.

D. Preview Body – after you’ve stated your thesis, give listeners a preview of what’s to come. Be specific, but brief, regarding each main point that you are going to cover in the Body.

E. Transition – the last part of the Introduction is to move listeners into the next phase of your presentation, the Body. You can literally say, “Now we’re going to move on to my first main point”, or “Let’s discuss more detail about what I’ve been speaking to you about”, for example.

A good presenter will accompany a verbal transition with a physical one. Perhaps they change their location by moving from the front of the room to the center of the room, or take a few steps to the left or right. This engages more of the senses of the listener and cues them into the fact that you’re moving on, and that they need to re-focus themselves.

The Body is the part that contains the real substance of your speech. Think about trying to organize it into three to five main points at the most. Each main point should contain information, ideas, or facts that support or explain it in further detail to your listeners. Once you have fully communicated a main point, make a smooth transition to your next main point.

Remember that good transitions are not just verbal. Make sure to include physical movement. Slightly alter your location or give an exaggerated gesture to mentally refocus the audience.

After completing your last main point of the Body, it’s time to move into the third and final component of a great presentation – the Conclusion. And how do you do that? Yes, one last transition.

You could say, “Now that I’ve completed the main points of my presentation, I’d like to quickly review them for you” or “In conclusion, I’m going to summarize my main points that I’d like you to remember”. Then briefly review each of your main points with specifics.

And the second and final part of your Conclusion is called the Tie In – this is like tying up a loose end for listeners. The Tie In also makes it obvious to the audience that the presentation is over.

There’s nothing worse or more awkward than a presenter who ends a speech suddenly or abruptly without giving the listeners notice that they are finished.

The Tie In can be very creative or you can simply refer back to how the speech started. You might say, “When I began this presentation with the joke about the elephant, you may not have understood where I was going. But now I hope that you understand much more about each of our roles as it relates to Customer Service – I appreciate your attention today.”

Here’s another example, “I started off with some startling statistics about forklift safety, it’s my sincere hope that the information I’ve given you will help insure that you are never involved in a forklift accident – thanks for your time.”

If it’s your intent for listeners to ask questions or participate, this is the time to say, “Does anyone have any questions I can answer or concerns that I can try to address before we end?”

Asking for participation is always a great way to make a presentation more memorable, and allows you to understand where you may have confused people or not communicated as thoroughly as you had intended.

It’s a reality that even in the most stellar presentations, the typical audience may only absorb 50% of what a speaker says. So presenters have lots of challenges to overcome to insure that their message is really heard!