Friday, October 29, 2010

Sabha Presentations that Knock Your Socks Off

The path to a stickier sabha can be long, tiring, and even exhausting - that is if we fail to take note of the signs along the way. So this week, let's take a moment to pause and reflect on some advice adapted from an article entitled, "How to Prepare Public Presentations that Knock the Socks Off," to develop that shock & awe atmosphere in sabha.

Nail the Benefit
In other words, how will this presentation benefit the audience? Yes, "to please Maharaj & Swami" or "to get moksha," is part of it, but let's think a bit more deeply. For instance, learning about kusang can help my K2 mandal focus on their academics which can contribute to a successful career which of course will then please Maharaj and Swami. In short, take a few moments to connect the dots for ourselves before we expect our audience to do the same; we may do it subconsciously, but our target audience may not.

Create a Memorable Structure
Remember that one time when we went up to speak and we just went blank? We can easily make sure that does not happen again with a little bit of structure. 

The article states, "A structure that storytellers have used since ancient times is the three-act form. In the design of your presentation, Act 1 is the opening. It is the description of the pain points, challenges, and frustration that your audience faces in respect of your topic. When you promise to show how to overcome these challenges in order to reach a desired outcome, you sets up a dramatic tension.

The corresponding part of your presentation is Act 3. It offers the resolution, and describes how one is changed and rewarded through overcoming the challenges and attaining the desired outcome.

Act 2 is the detailed description of the path from A to B. It is the ‘how to’ section of the presentation.

No matter what your topic is, this structure ensures that you connect with your audience, because people feel understood when you name their pain, and inspired when you show them how to overcome it.  This three-act structure ensures dramatic tension and release – which you need in order to create a memorable presentation."

What is the Story Thread?
Along the lines of structure, a metaphor or analogy can often enhance the message at hand. In fact, pay attention to the next pravachan given by a P. Sant; one of these threads

A few examples mentioned in the article are listed below.
  • Climbing a mountain: how someone overcomes all difficulties to reach the summit.
  • Finding the missing piece of a puzzle: how a search is finally rewarded with a new insight into how pieces fit together.
  • Voyage into the unknown: how an adventurer set out into the unknown and finds a place hitherto unknown.
  • The treasure hunt: how someone follows hidden clues and finally uncovers a treasure.
  • The reluctant hero: how an ordinary person overcomes all odds and ends up a hero.
  • Finding the source: how someone walked back in order to find the source or origin.
  • The blockbuster story: you can use a story thread from popular literary pieces, like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. 

The Architecture
So we've gathered a good number of elements, but let's put them to use through a three-part structure.

Opening: "Your first task is get your audience’s attention and to create a connection. A great way to do this is to relate a personal story, the ‘why’ of your presentation. Why are you passionate about this topic? How does this topic relate to your life? If you lead in with a personal story, it’s much easier for people to relate to your topic. And your personal story establishes authority. In order to grab your audience’s attention, see if you can start in a way that’s unexpected.

Let’s say you are going to present a talk on how to become a runner, in order to go from flab to fit. Your opening could be your story about how you were overweight, and then managed to become slim and fit by taking up running. Once you’ve established your motivation and authority, it’s time to start with Act 1, that is, you need to speak about people’s pain, frustration and barriers in respect of your topic. The pain points here could be feeling unattractive, unhealthy, or unfit. The challenge could be the beliefs that ‘I could never learn to run’, or ‘I get puffed after only a few meters – how could I ever get fit?’

The desired outcome (that’s going to be Act 3 of your presentation) is to become a runner in only 5 weeks ‘by using the following 5 step body-control program’.  In this scenario you would need to spend a moment explaining why the ‘5 step body-control program’ is effective. Then it’s time for the development phase."

Development: "This is the phase where you lay out exactly how to overcome the pain points in order to reach the desired outcome. The brain learns best if you offer bite-sized bits of information. This is why numbered steps or bullet-points work so well. This is going to be the ‘meat in the sandwich’, so to speak. The development part of your presentation should be the longest part with detailed information. Once you have laid out how to achieve the desired outcome, it’s time for the closing.

Conclusion: "In the closure it’s time to talk about how it feels when you achieve the benefits. Maybe you can give examples of others who also achieved success in order to inspire and motivate. It’s a good idea to repeat briefly the main steps of your development phase. In other words, you need to remind them briefly of the main content of your presentation.

Then comes the call to action.  You need to outline the next step for your listeners. What should they do now in order to move closer to the desired outcome? Are there special resources they can access? Is there an action they can do today that will start them on a new path?"

To PowerPoint or Not?
Through shibir and sabha, perhaps we've seen the triumph and fail of Powerpoint, which makes its use all the more an appropriate issue to consider. "Most presenters these days use PowerPoint slides. That can be very effective. Because you can use images and motion in order to hammer home your points. I think in general, PowerPoint presentations are great if you want to convey information.

However, if your presentation revolves is inspirational and revolves around your personal story, then just words may well work better because such a presentation is more intimate.

Whether or not you use PowerPoint, it’s important for your presentation to sound like your talking, and not reading aloud."

The article even suggests two books worthy of checking out.

Conversational Tone
Reading the syllabus does a lot to bring down our speaking and presentation style. It's a resource and definitely not the final product. Why?

"The best presentation are conversational. Even if you’ve worked them out to the letter, they still need to sound spontaneous."

Unless we ourselves wrote the syllabus, it's does not sound like us, so it's best to reframe and rephrase it in our own words. Then, "read aloud your draft to others. Whenever you notice that a sentence sounds contrived, mark it for further work. What often works is to shorten sentences, use simple language and use contractions, such as ‘you’ll’ instead of ‘you will’. These rehearsals are a key part of building confidence."

For more help, check out the linked article below.

Nothing kills it more for the audience then a presenter who does now know when to stop. Every mandir has that one person - be it a karyakar or that kishore - and to avoid any buzzkill, it's best to stay within the time limit. "Each presentation usually has a timeframe that you need to adhere to – especially if you invite questions at the end. Make sure you time your rehearsals. Then cut your text so that you spend only 80% of the allotted time, in order to have some time up your sleeve."

In short, structure and planning can only add to our sabha cred, so let's not underestimate its importance the next time we go up to speak. After all, it can make our presentation memorable.

For further reading, check out, "How to Speak in Public With Confidence – And Be On Top of Your Game."

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