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The one thing you must do to be successful when you speak

5 min read


When you want your message to be heard, making it relevant is the key to getting your listeners’ attention. That’s because the on-demand world we live in today has trained us to hone in on what’s customized to our needs, wants and desires and to basically ignore what’s not. We are constantly surfing, picking and choosing.

  • Recording our favorite shows to view them commercial-free
  • Performing triage on our emails
  • Scouring the Internet looking for something
  • Customizing a playlist of our best-loved music

In her book “Getting a Squirrel to Focus,” Dr. Patricia Scott explains how this works: our brains are filtering all incoming information to concentrate our attention on what fulfills a need for us. Anything that is not relevant is treated as noise and filtered out.

So the trick to making an impact on your audience is to focus your content on what’s relevant to them. We have discussed this concept before:

Here’s the part that may be an eye-opener: when your ultimate goal is delivering a relevant message to your audience, there’s a prerequisite step that you can’t ignore: You must also make sure your message is relevant to you as a speaker.

Why is connecting with your message so important?

To state it simply, if you don’t believe in your message, neither will your listeners. Some speakers make the mistake of relying too heavily on personal charisma, hoping that will be enough to get the audience to buy into the content of the presentation. In reality, that doesn’t work. People can sense when something is “off.” They might not be able to explain it but listeners know when you are not authentic, and the result is an automatic disconnect. You can’t make it by faking it!

That’s because it’s your passion for the subject and the message that drives your delivery. It enables you to convey your message in an animated way that establishes your credibility, grabs attention and allows your audience to get it.

It’s all well and good if you have the luxury of being in a position to speak about a subject you love or know extremely well. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case in the business world. There are occasions where you must speak on an unfamiliar topic, or about something that’s outside your usual frame of reference. So how can you connect with the message yourself so you can connect with your audience?

How you can develop a message you believe in

When you are given a topic to speak about that’s outside your comfort zone, or a presentation that you haven’t developed yourself, it’s important to take the time to familiarize yourself with the material and make it your own. That means using your own words, or putting your own spin on the content.

Make it personal. Here’s an example that may be familiar, especially if you are in sales: a stock business pitch. Your company may have a standard presentation intended for prospective customers. Even if you didn’t develop the content yourself, you can make that pitch more meaningful to you (and make it resonate with listeners) by adding your own personal point of view. For instance, you might share why you decided to work for the company, or how you’ve seen your company’s products and services help customers.

When you make your content personal, you can’t help but come across as genuine and trustworthy, because you are.

Go above and beyond the facts. Merely presenting a litany of cold, hard facts is ho-hum for you and for your listeners. After all, why should they pay attention to you when they could easily get the same information on-line? Make it meaningful by sharing your interpretation of those facts. I’ve noticed this effect when listening to sports commentators. It’s easy to tune them out when they merely recite a list of statistics about a player or team. But when they share their own insights about those facts and make predictions about how they may impact the outcome of the game or even the season, their enthusiasm is inspiring and much more interesting.

When you add your own insights to your presentation, your audience will sit up and take notice.

Now be the conduit

It’s only when you are truly invested in your own message that you can take the next step of sharing that message so it will resonate with your audience.

Imagine that you are the conduit between the message and your listeners. You possess all the knowledge and expertise about the subject, but you need to transform it into something that’s relevant for the audience. That means avoiding the one-size-fits-all presentation and positioning your content specifically for them. Ask yourself:

  • Which part of this content does the audience care about?
  • What do they need to know?
  • Why do they need to know it?

When you are empowered by your own message, and confident that you truly understand how it’s relevant to your audience, your delivery will touch the hearts and minds of listeners. That’s how you make an impact and get the results you’re after.

Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Learn more at and

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