Twelve ways to make your material more compelling
Think hard about how you’re going to make your material compelling. This is done by using a strong ‘hook’; the start that hooks people in to what you have to say. There are so many tricks you can use to draw people in, whether it’s a live audience or readers of a publication. Here are 12 techniques to prompt your thinking when planning your next public appearance. They are all proven ways to ‘hook’ your audience in by intriguing them to listen well.
1. Present a mystery with a surprise revelation. ‘Who is the most famous man in the world who collects Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian comics? Answer – President Barrack Obama.’
2. Use a switch on a common theme. ‘So you think men are the unfaithful ones? Try this. Recent studies show that women are just as unfaithful as men but are a lot more likely to lie about it and a lot less likely to get caught. Simply put, it seems that women are better at having affairs than men.’
3. Offer a startling statement. ‘The greatest threat to our health and well-being today is sensationalist journalism that makes us paranoid about eating anything.’
4. Ask rhetorical questions. ‘If you had £20 million and the chance to do something about crime prevention in your city, how would you spend the money?’ (Then you are into the classic problem–solution–benefit mode.)
5. Look for and use milestones. ‘This time last year we had built just 100 widgets. Today we build our 1 millionth widget.’ (I was at British Airways at the time of its 10th anniversary of privatization. To celebrate the anniversary, which absolutely nobody was interested in, we devised a global campaign called ‘Concorde for a Tenner’. The idea was that to celebrate the 10th anniversary British Airways, over 10 nights, would offer up tickets on Concorde for £10 a seat to the first 10 callers on an 0800 101010 number. This generated 33 million telephone calls from around the world over the 10 nights. It was the ultimate case of turning a milestone into something far more memorable.)
6. Predict the future. Everybody loves a futurologist. And it’s a lot simpler than you think. Simply try the technique of extrapolating trends to see what might happen in future. (I remember once talking to a chief executive who was involved in analysing house prices and mortgage trends all over the UK. He extrapolated house price trends in the North for the next 10 years, and compared the same trends in the South. What he saw was an increasing North–South divide in house prices, with prices in the North growing at a far slower rate than those in the South. He predicted that this gap would become so wide that it would have a major negative impact on workforce mobility. It generated national and regional news coverage by the truckload.)
7. Use fascinating facts. ‘In 1985, the first mobile telephone call was made in the UK. Today more than 95 per cent of adults own a mobile phone.’ Or, try this: ‘In 2011, there were 2.1 million violent crimes recorded in the UK. I was one of them.’
8. Begin with a news item. ‘You may have seen in the newspapers this week that while nicotine is addictive, it isn’t harmful. Really, it’s the tobacco that will kill you.’
9. Use the ‘on this day in history’ approach. ‘Today is July 29. On this day in 1981, crowds of 600,000 people lined the streets of London to catch a glimpse of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on their wedding day. The couple were married at St Paul’s Cathedral before an invited congregation of 3,500 and an estimated global TV audience of 750 million people.’
10. Invent a catchphrase. ‘Pooper scooper.’ (To encourage dog owners to clean up after their pets.) ‘Clicks, bricks and flicks.’ (A business model where a business has an online presence, a high-street presence and a catalogue presence.)
11. Ride on the wave of a current ongoing issue. ‘How are we going to kick start the economy? We are all obsessed with the economy, and rightly so because it is the one thing that impacts on each and every one of us.’
12. Make relevant or surprising comparisons. ‘The country with the highest birth rate in the world is [Pause]… Niger! It has 51.26 births per 1,000 people. The country with the lowest birth rate in the world is… Japan, at 7.64 births per 1,000.’
Most importantly, remember that nobody, but nobody, thanks you for a long presentation or speech. The shorter the better. You have to take the time to distil what you want to say down to its essence. The shorter and more simple you keep what you have to say, the more likely people will retain your key messages. Clarity has many enemies, including jargon and length.
Time and again I have seen leaders stand up, speak without notes and without slides giving a short, sharp, passionate speech, and the applause has been deafening.
Real confidence will come from telling stories that you love and using those as the pillars of any talk. Draw on the stories to make the points you want and avoid drowning the audience in facts. And always remember ‘the rule of threes’. People usually can only remember three points, so organize your speech or your interview notes around three key points and use the rule of threes when you make those points. This is a very general rule in speaking and writing, which states that ideas presented in threes are more interesting, more enjoyable and more memorable. The number three occurs frequently in well-known stories – from the three little pigs, to the Three Musketeers or the Three Wise Men.
Some of the most memorable quotes have involved threes – for example:
Up, up and away.
Faith, Hope and Charity.
Truth, justice and the American way.
Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I could go on, and on and on, but I think you get my point.