What's Your Sentence?

What's your sentence?

When it comes to motivation, creativity or the changing nature of work, one of my favourite authors is Daniel Pink. A few months ago, I reviewed Dan’s latest book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates us, and its applicability to public speaking.

Today I want to return to Drive and a neat two-minute promotion video for the book in which Dan raises two questions that could change your life. Now I’m not necessarily trying to get you to change your life; however, I hope that this post can help you change the effectiveness of your presentations. (For the better!)

Whenever we present, there are always many questions that we have to ask: Who is the audience? What is the topic? What is the format? How much time do I have? Where is the venue? And so on, and so forth.

However, once we have answered these questions and are sitting down to prepare the presentation itself, we need to ask ourselves what I consider to be the two fundamental questions for every public speaker:

  1. What is my key message?
  2. Why should the audience care?

A speaker who answers these questions before preparing the presentation will almost certainly do a better job than the speaker who doesn’t. In this post, I want to focus on the first of these questions.

Enter Dan’s video.

Dan encourages us to describe our lives and who we are in a single sentence, and then use that sentence to navigate our lives accordingly. It’s a pretty provocative idea. What would your sentence be? Have a look:

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/8480171 w=500&h=400]

When it comes to presentations we should do the same thing. I try to distill every presentation that I do down to a single sentence. Two at most. I imagine that I only have 15 seconds to give my message to the audience. What would I say?

Here’s an example. One of my regular speaking engagements is a course on public speaking and presentation skills for the Executive MBA Programme at the University of Lausanne. The timetable for the EMBA Programme is such that I teach my course on two non-consecutive Saturdays (one full day workshop and one day of student presentations and feedback).

What would be my sentence for the course? Well, given that it is a two-day exercise, I have allowed myself two sentences. Decadent of me, I know, but here they are:

Good public speakers prepare thoroughly, keep their messages simple, tell stories and connect with their audiences. With practice, anyone can become a better, more confident, public speaker.

Of course there is more to it than that. But if my students were to forget everything else, I would want them to remember that that ability to speak well in public is something that is within reach of everyone, and that preparation, simplicity, storytelling and connection with one’s audience are the touchstones of great public speaking.

Distilling your presentations into a single sentence or two will help keep you on the right track and ensure that your words, stories, statistics, pictures, props, etc. support, rather than detract from, your message. The next time you give a speech or presentation, ask yourself “What’s my key message?” or, if you prefer, “What’s my sentence?”

Photo courtesy of Paolo Bendandi on Unsplash

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3 Replies to “What's Your Sentence?”

  1. Good stuff, John.
    ‘The Sentence’ really makes a person laser focus on the subject at hand, doesn’t it?
    Clean, simple and to the point. So much of good presentations depends upon this and so many speakers think using words no one knows and talking about themselves and going off message impresses people.
    They need to read your Posts!

    1. Thank you, Fred. The funny (maddening) thing is that forming good public speaking habits is not rocket science. Yes, it takes time; yes it takes practice; but at the end of the day, it is just common sense. Then again, didn’t Mark Twain once say that common sense isn’t so common?

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International