Find the Lead

You didn’t write it, but now you are to present it.

You didn’t make the slides, but now you are to teach it.

Where do you begin?  Then, how do you make the presentation yours, make it memorable, make it effective workforce training?

Before we answer that question, consider the following story from Nora Ephron about her high school journalism class teacher, Charles Simms, as he faced a room full of bright-eyed students ready to start their careers and take on the toughest reporting challenges.

The Story

The teacher told the class about an upcoming event and asked them to compose the Lead for an article in the school paper describing it.  The facts they were given were as follows:

Picture of the school faculty attending a conference.  Find the Lead!  What is most important for the students?
What is the most important aspect
of a Faculty Conference?

“Kenneth L. Peters, principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the faculty of the high school will travel to Sacramento on Thursday for a colloquium on new teaching methods. At the conference, anthropologist Margaret Mead, educator Robert Maynard Hutchins, and several others will speak to the audience.”

After telling these and other details about the conference, Mr. Simms gave the class some time to compose the Lead.  When they were finished, he picked up each student’s paper one-by-one and read it aloud, with his assessment of their work: 

“Margaret Mead and Robert Maynard Hutchins will address the faculty,” “No!”

“Teachers to travel to Sacramento on Thursday.”  “No!”

“Faculty to attend a conference on new teaching methods.”  “No!”

Finally, Mr. Simms smiled. Then he looked up and said, “The lead to the story is, “There will be no school Thursday.”’

The Lead

What does this story mean to us?  Simple.  For a slide you didn’t write, for a policy or process that is not in your words, for a presentation or workforce training topic handed to you to deliver, your job is to find the Lead.  When you flip the screen to the next slide, most of your audience will read all the bullets immediately.  You could be talking in a foreign language at this point and many wouldn’t notice.  But after an initial moment for them (and you) to orient yourself to the information on the screen, provide them with the Lead.  Then, direct their attention to one, or at the most two, key pieces of information and tell why it matters to them – they will gather all the other details from the slide themselves.

When you prepare for the presentation, analyzing each slide to find the Lead, you string the individual Leads together into a coherent, easy-to-follow story.  As you do this, you develop transitions and character throughout the presentation, and then guide the audience seamlessly through the message, making the complex concepts simple with the use of appropriate illustration.  By understanding your audience, what is important to them, and pulling that out of the presentation, you bring your audience to the call for action, the learning objective, or the question requiring a decision, depending on the overall goal of the presentation.

This is how you will make any presentation your own, make it memorable, and make it effective workforce training.  Find the Lead and describe its value to the listener.  Make it interesting and make it yours. Find the Lead – today’s CommLink.  Be sure to look for more Dynamic Speaking Principles from P H Tyson & Associates.

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