The Moment of Truth
Paper lies. In fact, it can tell some of the best tall tales there are. For example, do you know why employers never hire solely on a resume? Simple: It’s too easy (easier for some than others) to look good on paper when that’s not the case in reality. It’s too easy for someone to include a white lie or a big fat whopping untruth on a resume. The same concept is also true when it comes to writing a speech or presentation; the words you write on the paper can “lie” to you. That’s to say, the content is well written and reads excellently but that’s the catch: When you’re giving a presentation, you shouldn’t be reading anything. Presentations shouldn’t “read” well to anyone; they should “speak” directly to the audience. Because of this, you cannot assume that a well written message will translate to a well spoken presentation. The perception of your message could be completely different when you’re in front of a room. This, I know from personal experience!
I began my professional career at Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems (EDS). My first major responsibility as a sales leader was bidding on a $550 million dollar project with the U.S. Air Force. I was the lead man and, to make sure that my team “made the USAF’s cut,” we spent months working on the Request for Proposal (RFP). It was a “death march,” a “damn good stampede,” as one team member called it, but we got it done and our hard work paid off. We made the cut! I was ecstatic because I had spent eighteen months of my young life on this opportunity; if we won the bid, my career would have been on a speed pass and I would have met my quota for the next two to three years. However, my “cloud nine” moment didn’t last long. The proposal was just the first step, a qualifying tool to get on the short list to actually present our proposal to the USAF.
I knew that the presentation was going to be the differentiator between winning the proposal and losing it because the USAF could see and hear and sense what our recommendation was all about. They could ask questions. They could see how we thought on the spot and judge how smart we were. In the presentation, we couldn’t hide between pretty presentation books and “thrice” revised, thesaurus-laden text to make an “approbatory” impression. (See how easy it is to sound good on paper! But do you think I really use those words in my every day language?) We were exposed, for better or worse. This, folks, is why that presentation was “the moment of truth” for us, and why it is “the moment of truth” for any presenter.
So, what do you do when you can’t hide? When your “moment of truth” has come? Ideally, you would simply follow the steps and system laid out in my book Speaking Mastery: 7 Keys to Delivering High Impact Presentation. That will produce optimal results.
For now though, start by keeping the following keys in mind:
- Get mentally ready and mind the mind’s capacity. Get yourself psyched up before you get up and speak. Remember that the mind can only comprehend so much at one time. Share the key big picture points and a few pertinent details during your presentation; keep all of the extra factoids and the fine details on tap in your mind if you’re asked to provide more details.
- Know your outcome and write down what you want to say. You should be able to boil your message down to one sentence. If you cannot do that, then your message is not specific and your audience will get lost.
- Plot a B-line. A short tangent or two, as long as it’s related to your topic, is fine during a presentation. However, the more you stray from your message, the less willing your audience will be to follow. Plan your presentations to be as direct as possible while keeping the interest level high.
- Remember: Less is more. Don’t go overboard on the number of visual aides or PowerPoint slides you use. If you do, your audience may feel as though your presentation is too busy. Or worse, they may tune in to your visuals and tune you out! Every image and / or slide should have a solid purpose.
Take it from me. I know from firsthand experience. My team back at EDS failed to do each one of those things; we were too comprehensive and had a zillion slides. Plus, our message was too broad and too vague. In spite of the time we spent on our written proposal, the final decision was made in response to our oral presentation. Of course, we lost the deal. Why? Because what we said—verbally and nonverbally did not resonate with our audience.
It’s inevitable that at some point in your life, you will have to present information to someone that could make or break a career or life opportunity. So, when you get that chance, be sure that you’re sending the right signals to your audience. Be direct, be concise, and be confident because all audiences judge presenters; they decide whether they like, trust, and believe a presenter to be confident based on what they see during a presentation. If you do what I say and not what I did, you can avoid a similar fate, and you’ll certainly shine during your “moment of truth.”