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What Hollywood Can Teach You About Great Presentations - 12/11/2012 -

What makes a good Hollywood movie? Exactly the same principles that make a great keynote speech, executive presentation, and sales conversation.

By Patricia Fripp CSP, CPAE

Imagine that you have unlimited resources to design a speech that will make you the hottest commodity on the market, inspire your sales force, or close more sponsorships. Where would you go to get the best, highest-priced writers and directors in the world?

Hollywood! What makes a good Hollywood movie? Exactly the same principles that make a great keynote speech, executive presentation, and sales conversation.

While you probably don’t need the unlimited resources to hire an Oscar-winning writer and director, you can adapt these seven basic Hollywood techniques to increase the impact of your keynote speeches, business presentations, and persuasive sales conversations.

1. Embrace the creative process. The late, great comedian George Carlin said, "Creating a great speech or comedy routine is more like going on a field trip than working in a laboratory.” What he meant was, the creative process is messy, more free-flowing, so just embrace it. Forget the PowerPoint. That’s tidy. With a yellow pad, a flip chart, a whiteboard, just list or mind map what content could go in your presentation. You want stories, examples, quotes, statistics, your association’s message, and member successes. Then organize the structure of your presentation in a conversational and logical way and add the visuals. Special effects are not consulted until the "storyboard” is created.

2. Consider collaborating. Collaboration is the norm in Hollywood, and it can work for association communicators no matter what their audience or venue. In Hollywood you have directors, producers, actors, set designers, makeup artists, and editors who all work together. If you are a sales professional making a big sale, a publisher who wants to inspire the staff, a speaker who’s keynote speech is setting the tone for a convention, remember that it is often difficult to be creative in isolation. Who can help? Do you have a mastermind group or brainstorming committee, speaking buddies, team members, a sales manger, or mentor?

3. Start with a great story. We all love stories, and whenever we hear one, subconsciously we feel it is a luxury. With your association stories, identify your main theme, premise, or purpose—your plot—and any subplots. For example, a recently promoted retail executive found that a week after his promotion, he was invited to speak at the company sales meeting to 500 young store managers. His challenge was to inspire the managers to embrace a program to get employees to contribute money-saving ideas.

He walked on stage, looked at the audience, and said, "We are here to talk about heroes.” In seven words, he proved that his was not another dull, corporate speech. "They may be sitting in front of you. They may be sitting behind you. They may be you. In the trenches heroes!”

He then added some Hollywood drama with characters, dialogue, and an everyday hero. He found a story about a young man in the shipping department who noticed that he was shipping seven company newsletters to the same location on the same day in separate packets. This mailroom hero asked if he could package them together with a note requesting distribution at the other end. That year his idea saved the company $200,000. Relating the money to something specific, he explained "$200,000 is 18 miles of shelving.” That added specificity and color to the story. Statistics will not stick if they are not compared to something memorable. Your audience remembers what they "see” while they hear.

4. Begin with a flavor scene. Good movies open with what is called a "flavor scene,” grabbing attention and positioning the audience for what is to come. A senior scientist grabbed the interest of a breakfast club audience by beginning: "Being a scientist is like doing a jigsaw puzzle, in a snow storm…at night…when you don’t have all the pieces…or the picture you are trying to create.” Everyone sat up and paid attention, they realized that they could understand and relate to the challenges and frustration of a scientist.

Most publishing teams start their presentations with "Good morning. My name is John Smith. Thank you for your time. I am with the ABC Association. We have been serving our industry for 26 years and are known for our …” The audience is thinking: "So what? Who cares? What’s in this for us?” Don’t start by talking about your association. Create the "flavor scene” first.

Your flavor scene doesn’t necessarily have to lead where the audience expects it to, but it should make an impact, and it must tie in to what follows.

5. Create captivating characters and construct vivid dialogue. Gone with the Wind doesn’t begin with historical background on the Civil War. Instead, we find Scarlett O’Hara sulking about the impending conflict that might interfere with her social life. Immediately, we observe her frivolous, shallow, fun-loving personality. Characters establish themselves by their decisions and actions. The sooner this happens, the sooner the audience gets emotionally involved.

Whether it’s a conference presentation or a sales call, your audience would rather hear from "flesh and blood characters” who have overcome the same obstacles they now face. Add a "back story” to your speeches. Always use the "character’s” dialogue to talk about their situation. You can tell the prospect what your solution was in your words; the success needs to be in the client "character’s” words.

6. Remember scene changes. Early in nearly every movie we are introduced to a day in the life of our protagonist. Then something happens! The lead character overcomes one challenge and runs right into another. This involves scene changes. The movie literally moves from point to point, maintaining interest by changing settings, focal points, emotions, and energy levels.

The biggest enemy of a speaker, no matter how good, is lack of variety. Each time you move from story to story or example to example, this is a scene change. Use variety to keep your audience interested.

7. Provide a lesson learned. All great films—and speeches—have a message. When preparing a presentation, ask yourself: "If you had one sentence rather than 45 minutes, what would you say?” The purpose is to simplify and clarify your central theme. Even with a complex subject or proposal, make sure you can you explain it simply.

Stories are always compelling. Most people ask "Does the audience really what to hear these stories?” Yes! We are all motivated when we see the life lessons beyond the business message.

Patricia Fripp CSP, CPAE is past-president of the National Speakers Association and an executive speech coach and sales presentation skills trainer.


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