Imagine yourself standing with over 200,000 others on the steps and grounds of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, as Martin Luther King repeats the hypnotic refrain, “I have a dream!” You are swept away by the power of the message and the impact of that historical moment.
All the key ingredients for the making of an unforgettable speech were there: the substance, the style and the staging. All speakers who must make an impact on their audiences need to pay attention to these three factors.
1. Substance: This is the content of your message, the heart of why you are speaking. It is the core message, the opening and closing, the key points, the stories, the humor and the passion.
2. Style: Style is the way in which the content is delivered. It is the sum of all the myriad techniques that differentiate the pro from the beginner: stance, movement, gestures, voice, pause and eye interaction.
3. Staging: Most beginning speakers and many seasoned professionals overlook this area. Think of staging as all the subtle details the audience is usually unaware of—but that can ruin an otherwise outstanding presentation: the quality of the PA system; the speaker’s familiarity with the AV equipment; the effective use of visual aids; the seating arrangement; the use of handout material in a nondisruptive way; the lighting and so forth. The other aspect of staging is dealing with audience reactions and behavior.
Often, in business and technical presentations, when the speaker is solely concerned with substance, i.e., getting the facts and numbers right, and ignores style or staging, the speech can be flat. The audience may be overwhelmed with detail and soon lose interest.
On the other hand, overemphasis on style can result in an audience being temporarily dazzled, but “an hour later feeling hungry for content.” An overemphasis on staging may leave an audience impressed with the show, but they won’t feel connected with the presenter. Some corporate high-tech road shows spend small fortunes on flashy models, jarringly animated, computer-driven slide shows and videotape presentations, but little on the presentation skills of the speaker. Yet in spite of the dazzling show, it is the confidence, persuasiveness and believability of the real, live human being who is presenting the show that will make the prospects feel comfortable with the product and the company.
Business, sales and technical presenters, then, would do well to seek a balance between substance, style and staging. Content alone will not persuade their listeners. Remember that what made Martin Luther King’s speech memorable—in addition to moving content—was world-class delivery and excellent staging. He had all three of the essential ingredients. So can you!