I talk a lot about the importance of your message. If you don’t know what you want your audience to remember – if you can’t sum it up in one clear, memorable sentence – they won’t be able to remember it either. You might as well not even have bothered them.
But if you have created that crisp, catchy, memorable statement that perfectly encapsulates your strongest pitch or argument, you are more than half way home. You do, however, still have work to do.
Your message might be the most important part of the speech, but if you want your audience to buy in, you still have to build the supporting structure of logic and evidence they need to justify your claims in their minds. They need that, if they are going to accept the validity of your message and to act on it.
Sammy Cahn was a Broadway lyricist, four-time Academy Award winner and the writer of such classic songs as “Three Coins in a Fountain” and “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow”. In an interview on NPR, he made the comment that “The title dictates the architecture of the song.” What he meant, I think, is that the title sets the theme, the tone and, to a certain extent, the structural scheme of rhythm and rhyme.
I’m no songwriter, and I may be the worst singer in the world, but I feel the same way, not about the title of a speech or presentation, but about the message.
Your message dictates the architecture of your speech or presentation.
Your message tells you the tone you need to set in the opening of your speech. If your message to a group of breast cancer survivors is, “You are still strong and beautiful”, you wouldn’t open with a joke about bald women. The tone doesn’t suit the message.
Your message tells you how to structure the body of the speech. If your message is that “Most aid to foreign countries is wasted,” then you need to marshal the evidence to justify that claim. You need you need to tell us how much money goes to foreign aid, how much is wasted and what the results of the aid are.
Your message tells you which stories are likely to further your point, and which will just confuse it. If your message is “Our training can boost your sales conversions”, you wouldn’t tell a story about the time you forgot to send in a sales order and nearly got fired, no matter how funny it is. You would tell a story about a client who went from nearly being fired to being named Salesman of the Year, after taking your training course.
Your message dictates the title of your presentation, your call to action and even how you write the introduction the Master of Ceremonies reads. It dictates everything you do.
Your entire speech or presentation is designed to deliver the one simple, memorable message that you think gives you the best chance accomplish your purpose.
Of course that’s assuming you know what the purpose of your speech is. You’ve already figured that out, haven’t you?