In this webinar session, András Baneth give a practical 6-part guide to making sure your message resonates both with your audience and event planners.
András touches on a lot of topics in this 45 minute session: from the risks of using too much jargon and abstract language, to how to tell a impactful story in a few minutes.
At the end of the session you will have a clearer idea of how to pitch yourself concisely and effectively to event organizers, and how speak engaging to your audience, so they will remember your message.
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This is the last part of the eight part webinar series that we’ve been running with SpeakerHub on developing and improving your speaking business.
Today’s topic is Making Your Message Stick, which relates not only to the pitch that give to event planners, but also the presentation itself. It’s so important to make a great impression on the audience, so the event planner will love you so much that they’ll invite you back to speak, refer you as a speaker, help you gain traction, and develop your speaking business.
A little bit about me. SpeakerHub is my baby. We launched about a year ago, as many of you know. There’s a few of you who have not yet signed up, and if you don’t have profile yet please set one up. You’re more than welcome to join, and it’s free. We don’t charge a commission fee, and we help to connect you with event planners.
A few words on my background. I started my career as a European official. I used to work for what the Americans would call the federal government in Europe. I also wrote a book, which helped anyone who was aspiring for such a career called the The Ultimate EU Test Book, which in eight years has sold over 80,000 copies.
Right now I am also working with an organization called the Public Affairs Council, and that’s where the idea for SpeakerHub came from. I organized and spoke at a lot of events, and I thought that others might have the same issues, or the same problems of finding good speakers for their events, as well as speakers needing help promoting themselves, and getting visibility. Enough about me, let’s get to the subject.
The elevator pitch
Making your presentation, or pitch stick starts with the elevator pitch. Everything starts with you being able to tell a stranger about your speaking topic in 60 seconds. When you are at a networking event, when you are talking with a neighbor, or a coworker, and they say, “Wow! You really speak? That’s great. What is your topic?”
Telling them in 60 seconds may seem easy on the face of it, because you just cut down and narrow what the topic is. But it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to stick. The question is is it even possible to tell a compelling message in a minute.
I think it’s possible to give a message in fewer than 140 characters. I’ll give you an example from a funny, or maybe even scary tweet, that I came across some time ago. It says “You hear your wife singing to your newborn baby on the baby monitor and smile. Your smile fades as she texts you, be home late, traffic.” This is a mini story in 140 characters. Hopefully that didn’t make you cringe too much, but a message like that triggers some sort of emotional reaction.
Now if you look at a story like this you might wonder why is it so effective even though it’s such a short 140 character mini story? The answer is partly found in this amazing, fascinating, fantastic book that I recommend everyone read, memorize, and internalize, which is called “Made to Stick.”
Made to stick
“Made to Stick” is what we’re going to use today for our webinar. I’m going to walk you through a couple of the methods that Made to Stick talks about. We’re going to reverse engineer them, and we’re going to apply those methods to a speaking presentation, or pitch that we are going to do in the next few months, weeks, or years when applying to speak at various events.
Of course this is a spoiler alert because you will hear the key messages in the book, but the bottom line is that we want to apply these messages for your speaking career.
The number one principle in any presentation, for any speaking pitch is that it has to be simple. This is probably something that you’ve heard so many times over the years, and you may be wondering, okay, simple, I get it.
But let’s dig a little deeper, and try to understand in depth what simple really mean. There is an Albert Einstein quote, just like there is an Albert Einstein quote for everything these days, even for things he never said, but this one he actually did say. He said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Fine, great, we get the idea.
I’ll give you an example, and after reading it you tell me whether it is simple or not. This is a trade association’s description of what they deal with. A trade association deals with trade repositories. I’m not an economist, I’m not a financial services expert.
Here’s what they say. “Trade repositories centrally collect and maintain the records of derivatives. They play a central role in enhancing the transparency of derivative markets, and reducing risks to financial stability.”
If anyone on this call, or listening to the recording is a financial services expert this might be pretty obvious to you. But I think for the other 99 percent of us this is not obvious, and this is not clear.
What is the fundamental mistake that those who wrote this committed? That fundamental mistake has a name, and that name is called the curse of knowledge. The curse of knowledge is the concept that you cannot unlearn what you have already learned, or at least it’s very difficult to unlearn what you’ve already learned.
From your vantage point, or from your perspective, it might be obvious because you’re an expert. You may be an expert on domestic violence, maybe you’re an expert on leadership, maybe you’re an expert in a related area.
Skip the jargon
It’s very difficult to use terminology, to use words, or even a description which doesn’t have jargon, which doesn’t have the technical terms not obvious for those people who are not in that field.
Rule number one is to be extremely aware and careful when it comes to the curse of knowledge. It’s often difficult to judge or evaluate ourselves, and ask ourselves, did I commit this fundamental error?
The best thing you can do is try and bounce off ideas with non experts, bounce off your speaking pitch with non experts. The broader your audience, the less jargon you can use, the fewer technical terms you can use.
If you’re giving a TEDx talk, or a TED talk if you’re lucky enough, they have a very broad audience, you cannot use jargon terms. But one thing you can do if you have to use some technical terms is to define it early on. Once you say this is what a trade repository is, and you define it in layman terms then it’s fine.
I’ll give you another example, and I’ll challenge you. Think about what headline you would give for this story. Imagine that you are a student, again. Some of you might be right now, but let’s say you’re a student again, and you’re writing an article for the school newspaper. Here’s the gist of the story. Try to find a good title for it.
“All teachers are required to attend workshops each year to keep up with the latest educational methods. When they join this annual event tomorrow the focus will be on how social media affects students’ attention spans. Though students will stay at home, teachers will have many stories to share.” Think about what title you would give for this story. Try to simplify it in the sense that the title will reflect the idea.
Here’s a twist. Here’s my idea of a title for this story. Remember you’re a student writing an article for the school newspaper, what is the core message here? The core message here is there’s no school tomorrow because teachers are out.
The teachers are having a day away for training. You’re a student, and you couldn’t care less about what they talk about, if they talk about social media. You care that there’s no school tomorrow.
I didn’t mean to trick you, I hope you don’t take offense. My aim was to challenge you, and to raise your awareness that when you have a story like this, what is your number one effort, or the way we approach the simplification challenge?
Well the way we do that is we usually pick words from the text that we’d like to simplify and rehash it. We try to reword it, and find an alternative, we try to find the synonyms, but that’s not the right way.
Finding your core message
You need to look for the core message of your pitch. Try to look for the real meaning of it. Finding the real meaning means you need to take a step back, and look at what’s the real story without recycling, without reusing the words in the description.
In the description nowhere was it written that there was no school tomorrow, but that’s the essence of the story. That’s another way of simplifying not only your pitch, but ultimately your presentation.
The next thing about simplification is often very difficult, because when you talk about something new, your approach is novel, it’s modern. It’s very difficult to describe something that doesn’t exist, because that’s the very definition of an innovative idea or approach.
There was an issue at the end of the 19th century. When the car was invented it was very difficult to explain what the hell it was. Because you couldn’t just say it’s a steam driven engine that transports people fast. It’s very complex, and that description doesn’t do service to what the car is.
It was difficult to describe a car because people really didn’t understand the technology. So what was the idea. They used an analogy saying, “It’s a horseless carriage.” Because everyone was familiar with carriages, so that was the reference point to describe something novel.
In your topic, in your area you need to find something that everyone can understand, that everyone can relate to, use general knowledge, or some sort of information that others already know.
I’ll give you another example. When the carbonated drink 7-Up came out the company tried to position themselves as a new product. They were thinking about how they should do that, how they would make sure that people understood what they were.
They said, we are the un-Cola, We are not Coke. They defined themselves in contrast to something, because everyone knew about the competitive product. That idea of trying to find what people know is powerful, because it helps you simplify your message instead of going into a long, detailed, complicated description. Principle number one is make it simple.
Number two is have something unexpected. Something unexpected is an interesting concept. It’s not easy to pull off something unexpected. Of course as a speaker the last thing you want to be unexpected is a technical glitch in your presentation, or an unexpected audience member who starts to heckle you, those are not things you would like to happen.
But unexpected can be built into your presentation. Let me give you an example, and again challenge you once more.
Here’s a quiz that’s totally unrelated to the speaking, or intellectual challenge that I’m putting out there. Which one of three biggest economies in the world that you see on the screen is the largest, the second largest, and the third largest? What is the correct answer?
It’s the first one! The EU! As the collection of 28 countries in the world that’s the largest economy in the world right now, which hopefully to some extent will surprise you. Because you might say, “Really? I thought the US was the biggest. I thought China was the biggest.”
The piece of information, that the European Union, and then the US and China are the biggest economies in this order may have a tiny bit of a surprise element to you. That brings me to my point that you should bring an element of surprise to your speech, something that will make the audience say, “Really?”
That should help them remember your presentation. That should help them remember your key points. You can include a little quiz like that, or just have people put their hands up to vote for who thinks this way or that. Putting in a quiz can help to a great extent.
Another example. This one has more of a funny side. This is a website where this guy collects these weird correlations. What you see here is the per capita consumption of mozzarella cheese correlates with the number of civil engineering doctorates awarded. Isn’t that crazy?
It doesn’t make any sense, of course. But it’s just a weird thing that these two completely unrelated pieces of statistics correlate. They have something to do with each other, but more interestingly, it’s almost a perfect correlation. If people start eating more mozzarella cheese maybe more civil engineering doctorates will get awarded.
If you are presenting to a food trade association, a corporate audience, or if you’re talking to civil engineers you might want to show a chart like that, because you’ll immediately get the audience’s attention.
They’ll say, “Oh, that’s cute, that’s funny. That’s relevant, but at the same time unexpected. Who would have thought?” If you can bring in that sort of element it’s definitely going to help your pitch, or your presentation to be more memorable.
Here’s another example. Do you think this is unexpected? Let’s say you’re running a company, and you say, “Our company wants to focus on new economic opportunities that will sustain and grow jobs in the face of significant global challenges.”
Do you think this is unexpected? Do you think there’s any twist that would make the audience remember, or at least sit up and pay attention to what you have to say? If you said “no.” I completely agree with you. I think it’s just physically painful to read such gobbledygook like that, it just doesn’t make any sense.
A cute example I’ve found is from a couple of years ago when the American President Barack Obama was coming to Brussels. One of the journalists here tweeted these two pictures with the caption “How the American President arrives,” you see on the left side, “and how the Dutch Prime Minister arrives from the Netherlands.”
It has got a bit of a political spin and edge to it, but it’s unexpected. It puts things in contrast. You see on top of the slide it says I wouldn’t have guessed. It’s something that did surprise a lot of people, so immediately they could relate to that.
I have another example that’s one of my personal favorites. You see on the picture an actor and a lawyer it says, “Internationally acclaimed barrister Amal Alamuddin marries an actor.” I guess it’s fascinating because all the newspapers, websites, and blogs were full of the news of George Clooney finally getting married.
What they did here is they communicated the very same news from a different perspective. Something that everyone knew, but they put it in a different, unexpected perspective. That’s exactly what did the trick, and made this so memorable. So far you have learned you should do something simple and unexpected in your speech.
Number three, be concrete. Concrete not necessarily in a materialistic sense, but concrete meaning specific. Let’s look at another two examples, and tell me whether they’re concrete enough, specific enough or not.
I speak about energizing the audience, and help them achieve their goals. My approach is bold, and I deliver an innovative way of helping minority groups. Do you think that’s concrete?
This is not concrete enough, which a very common mistake in pitches, presentations, and workshops, in so many formats of speaking. It’s too abstract. It’s not specific enough, it’s not concrete enough.
What can you do to make your presentation, or your pitch, more specific? Here are a couple of ideas. You can always add figures, and you can say I have spoken about this topic to 82 groups, which is a very specific figure.
You can drop in some known names. You can say Angelina Jolie, or another celebrity was our goodwill ambassador, you can use a brand name, or someone else that you have a connection to.
You can also put in proportions. You can say they grew faster than Google did in their first two years of operation. You can give an example of what you do in a very specific manner. You can say, do you remember in the news when something happened? Well I was dealing with that specific issue on a daily basis.
I see this all the time when I see speakers applying for opportunities and gigs at SpeakerHub or elsewhere. I see pitches that are not specific enough. They are full of adjectives and big words, but they are still lacking in being concrete. Make sure you are aware of this specific criteria.
Number four is a tricky one. So far we have simple, unexpected, and concrete. Credible. Credibility is such an interesting thing. Credibility from one perspective means authentic. You come across as authentic starting from your photo.
I know that a lot of you use a professional photograph as your headshot. I’m also an example of that. The one you see on your screen was done by a professional photographer. I hope that i come across as authentic, at least in my photo, and I dare to believe on the webinar as well. If I am saying something that is too polished, too perfect, or too chiseled it’s not going to come across as authentic, starting with my photo.
What makes you a credible speaker? What makes you credible in the eyes of an event planner? Why do you think you have the cred to speak at their event? Let me give you a couple of perspectives on what gives credibility to a speaker, or to an expert on a topic.
Here’s one that can play, or can backfire. One is using a company’s reputation. Let’s say you’re working for IBM. IBM has a good reputation, so that reputation can reflect positively on you allowing you to get brownie or credibility points saying that you have that personal credibility because you’re working with that particular company.
If you are working with a more controversial industry like the tobacco industry, that can definitely backfire, especially if you’re talking to an audience which may be very skeptical, or hostile to that particular company. That is one aspect.
The other is academic background. Having a PhD gives you additional credibility points in the eyes of an event planner, as long as your academic qualifications match the event and the focus of the presentation.
Then you have personal knowledge. You may not have those formal credibility elements, but you have a lot of personal knowledge, and that definitely helps, especially if you can showcase that through your website, your book, your blog, or your social media presence.
Publications and online presence is the next one, and those add to your credibility score, and authenticity.
Relatability is also very similar to authenticity. Authenticity, the way I look at it, is very situational. If you go and start presenting to an audience they need to feel that you can relate to them, that you’re authentic.
You show this through your body language, the way you’re dressed, with the words that you use, the message that you deliver. If these match their expectations they give you the credibility.
A very good way of appearing credible is to start with why. Often people say to start with your story, but you should start with why you’re doing what you’re doing. Really go to the core before you start getting into the technical details.
Another very important element to keep in mind is that when it comes to credibility some people, some audiences, and some event planners want to believe certain things. We all have cognitive biases, we all have certain prejudices. We try to fight against them, and we try to stay aware of them, but we all have them.
If someone on the other end of the event organizing side has a very different mindset, a different approach, or a different value set from the one that you’re projecting you just need to be aware that you can be very effective in communication, but your credibility may not be there for that person.
Here’s my wisdom today that I want to share with you. The credibility coefficient is a term that I coined for this situation. Credibility communication is a variable in a formula. If it’s zero, everything else in the communication is nullified. You’re simply not going to be heard because you’re not being perceived as credible.
You can have a PhD, you can be concrete, you can be unexpected, but if credibility is missing because of your background, because of where you work, etc., you’re not going to be heard. That’s something, to be very clear of when you are pitching, or when you are presenting.
Number five of our six elements is to be emotional. That’s a very important one. It’s relatively easy to be emotional, but not all emotions are created equal.
You remember the Twitter story I told you at the beginning, it triggered some sort of emotion. My question for you is what emotions do you think work in a pitch, or a presentation? What are a couple of emotions that you think would help your speaking business, your speaking pitch to succeed?
Emotions like humor, inspiration, love, and sometimes even ridicule can work. Of course ridicule is super sensitive and tricky. But if you look at comedians like John Oliver, if you look at the comedians on Saturday Night Live, and famous shows like that, often they operate with ridicule because they know they are speaking to a group that has one value set, and they laugh at those in the out group, those who are not there, so they can ridicule them.
Other emotions you can use, especially in an audience you might not know so well, or if you want to play it safe, are love, inspiration, and humor, which work magic, and work very well.
A trick though is that some emotions just don’t work. Anger and sadness are the kind of emotions that generally are not advisable to use. Why do I say that? We as people are often angry. I get angry if I get a parking ticket, but it’s not something I’m ever going to talk about or share on social media.
On the other hand, if you look at outrage, that’s something that triggers action, you want to feel you have a certain influence on something. I feel that if I sign a petition, if I get the audience to cheer, to stand up and agree with me. Outrage can be a great trigger. Try to distinguish between these two fundamental emotions.
Secondly sadness versus fear. Let’s say my pet passes away. I’m sad, but it’s probably not something that I would turn into any sort of speech or pitch. However, fear can definitely be a very powerful emotion that you can mobilize.
Here is a picture. What emotion do you think this picture triggers? What emotion do you feel when you look at this old gentleman kneeling at a tank? Honor or fear? Do you stay neutral? Do you look at this picture and say, “It doesn’t trigger any emotion whatsoever in me.” ?
I hope I’ve made it clear that a good image can trigger a lot of emotions. You’re not going to stay neutral when it comes to an image like that.
On a happier note, what emotion does this cuteness in the picture trigger for you? What do you feel when you look at this picture. I think it’s from Humans of New York. They’ve got this subsection where they say today in my profession.
This picture evokes some emotion from you. Emotion is a very important element that you need to connect to your talk, you need to connect it with your pitch. It’s essential that the emotion is not self serving.
If I were to talk about a specific subject, a specific topic, I couldn’t just find a cute little baby, but I would need to connect that to the key message I am trying to convey.
You can also be emotional in a pitch. You can even be emotional in a single sentence. You can say, it’s humbling to know that my work changes people’s lives. Being humble conveys the emotion of honor.
If I say, when I deliver a 30 minute talk most of what I say is forgotten, but if I manage to convince only one kid not to do drugs as a result it is worth it. The emotion you get from that sentence is probably inspiration. I managed to convey in a single sentence a very powerful emotion. I inspired, or I am inspired by the tasks or work that I do.
Tell a story
The very last method is probably pretty obvious. It’s story. So far we have simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and now story. The message here is how can you craft a story.
Story is not necessarily Hollywood. Hollywood is probably the world’s most preeminent story factory. But remember the tweet I told you about. That tweet in 140 characters was a story.
Anything can be a story. Your pitch in 100 words, or 50 words that you’re sending to an event planner can be a story. If you manage to craft a story in such a short amount of words then you have nailed it.
What makes a story for you? What are the elements? Whether it’s a tweet, whether it’s your pitch, or your entire presentation, what makes a story? There is some sort of a an outcome, a dramatic outcome. Maybe it’s how I survived. There’s a character in that. That character can be you, or that kid whose life you saved with your speech. There is ideally a call to action.
Let me give you two pictures, and then I’ll tell you a story. Some of you might know this picture, it’s a pretty famous one. It’s an operation that happened about 35, maybe 40 years ago. You see that there is a surgeon, and there is a patient on the operating table.
If you look closely enough on the right side you see the assistant of the surgeon sleeping in the corner, because this operation lasted 23 hours. Now this operation was the world’s very first heart transplant.
What you see here is actually the guy who was on that bed. He was the guy up there whose life was saved over 40 years ago by that surgeon who spent 23 years operating on his heart. He is there, and as a result he had several decades left to live.
I use this picture when I talk about science, and the importance and significance of what science can deliver. Two pictures without a single word on them. I spent about a minute explaining the pictures.
This is a story, because it had some drama, it had a character. It had a beginning, an outcome, and an inspiring message to it. With these two pictures I hope I have managed to convey a good story to you.
You can apply that, even without an image, if you’re speaking. You can say, a few days ago a colleague of mine looked at me and said..., and there you say something. When I was at university... These three examples are not interrelated.
You can say, when I was at university I never thought I would be a speaker, but then I had this amazing professor..., and then you continue.
Last time I met a government official he asked me, “Don’t you just want to let this issue go?” So I said… Even in these three lines there’s a tiny bit of drama already built in. That’s something you can apply whether it’s a short presentation, your pitch, your speech to a large audience.
All of this can be done verbally, but if you have luxury of being able to use visuals you should definitely take the time and look for some.
To summarize, to make your presentation, application, or even your SpeakerHub profile stick, and memorable so that event planners, and agents, will invite you to speak, try to use as many of these six principles as you can.
This concludes SpeakerHub’s series on developing your speaking business, and helping you become a better speaker. We’re planning on doing another series next year, so stay tuned.
If you'd like to reach out to Andras, or the team here at SpeakerHub, and we're happy to help you develop your speaking career.
A bit about our speaker
András is the founder and CEO of SpeakerHub, as well as a strategic communication and public affairs expert. He has an M.A. in Law and Political Sciences and the degree of Master of European Public Administration from the College of Europe, Bruges, Belgium. His speaking and training topics include global public affairs, lobbying, strategic communications, European decision-making, skill-building for government relations professionals, EPSO exams, EU communication or online entrepreneurship.
András is the author of the Ultimate EU Test Book – Europe’s no.1 best-seller book on EU exams, which has helped thousands of candidates prepare for EPSO competitions, hundreds of whom are now permanent EU officials.