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QuickBites: How to Construct a Solid Foundation for Your Talks

Do you watch any of the home renovation shows? My wife and I do. And it didn’t take watching very many shows to realize that there was going to be a surprise – a problem – in every episode, no matter which shows we were watching. But, of course, this makes sense since stories, to be interesting, need challenges or conflicts.


The surprise I like most is when the hosts discover there are problems with the house’s foundation. Then, all structural work comes to a screeching halt because all they do structurally is at risk until the foundation is solid.


This situation is a near-perfect metaphor for developing a talk. Your presentation is likely to have problems without establishing a solid foundation, just like a house built on an unreliable foundation. Sooner or later, it develops cracks in the walls, floors that slope, and doors that won’t close properly.


What do you believe the foundation of a presentation is? Exactly! Knowing your audience. Without knowing who they are, what they need, and how you can benefit them, how do you expect your message to resonate with them?


These are the six questions I want to answer before I begin to develop my talks.


1. What’s the SCOOP? With SCOOP being an acronym for Situation, Challenge, Occasion, Opportunity, or Problem? Any audience will usually fit into one or more of these. For instance, if an organization is celebrating its 25 anniversary, it’s an occasion. If a sales team is seeing sales dip down below quota, it may be a problem and an opportunity. Perhaps your audiences fit into one of these just about every time, and that’s okay. Just be sure to determine if they also fit into others.


2. Who’s in the audience? I want to know who will be listening to me. This includes, but certainly isn’t limited to, demographics, socioeconomics, attitudes, experience, and company departments represented. When I have this information, I know who I’m speaking with.


3. What does your audience need and want to know? In most presentations, there is information the audience members need to know. This may be determined by the people who asked you to speak, the situation, or the topic. And there is also what people want to know, which isn’t always the same as what they need to know. Be sure, when possible, and it’s usually possible, to include both so you can keep your listeners engaged and provide them with a superior experience.


4. How will your audience members benefit from your presentation? Sometimes, I think we forget why we’re speaking. It’s not to demonstrate how great a speaker we are. It’s to serve our audience, whether that’s inspiring them, providing information, challenging them, or other benefits. Without knowing how they will benefit, it’s challenging to craft a message that will accomplish it. Remember, people don’t hire speakers; they buy solutions for their people.


5. How do you want your audience embers to feel? Yes, feel. This is extremely important, and the most effective speakers understand this. Do you want your audience to be encouraged, confident, excited, happy, outraged? Whatever it may be, you need to keep this in mind, so the words you choose to use during your talk, your body, and your tone match the spirit of your desired outcome.


6. What do you want your audience to do. Your talks will often conclude with a call to action — what you want your audience members to do or think. Like the previous five questions, you want to know the answer to this before developing your presentation.


Once you have done your research and sufficiently and accurately answered these six questions, you will have built a solid foundation that supports every aspect of your talk, just like a strong and sure foundation supports the house built upon it.