Ever had an important presentation that was critical to your success, and you didn’t make the impact you wanted to? You are not alone. Presentations and speeches are areas where many financial advisors stumble — or that they avoid altogether for fear of failure. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Getting your message out to groups of prospective clients can be a hugely effective way of building your business — if you do it well, of course.

That’s why my firm, CEG Worldwide, and the advisors we coach have been working lately with Joel Wheldon, a highly regarded speech coach who has been paid to speak to nearly 3,000 groups over his 40-plus-year career.

Here is some of the advice we’ve extracted from him on how to amp up your presentations so they have a powerful impact on your audience — and on your level of success.

1. Get them on the bus. As the speaker, you are the bus driver and your message is the bus. The audience members are the passengers, and the sign on the bus — your presentation’s title and the slides and other support materials you use — tells your passengers where you are taking them. Your job is to get that audience on your bus and give them an enjoyable, interesting ride.

2. Your content is king. Any presentation you give (a speech, webinar, whatever) is not about you — it’s about your content and how it touches the audience. Your messaging needs to focus on the people in front of you. And that means you need to know a lot about those people well before you speak to them. So instead of thinking like an advisor, think like your audience. To do this, Wheldon offers the NFV Formula:

  • Needs: What does your audience need to be doing that they currently aren’t doing?
  • Fears: What are they most afraid of, and what is stopping them from taking the actions they need to take?
  • Victories: What have been their successes and achievements? 

The next time you’re making a presentation, get to know the audience deeply. Make a list of their needs, their fears and their achievements. Learn all you can about them. In the age of Google and LinkedIn, you have no excuse for not knowing all there is to know about your audience.
3. Find the “golden thread” — and repeat it. Using a single sentence, write down the one main point or piece of advice you want your audience to come away with. This is your golden thread — a message that will be impossible for your audience to misunderstand.

As you prepare your content, think of interesting things you could say to support that one sentence. If a story or data point doesn’t help support that statement, don’t use it. You’ll just muddy the waters if you do.
Say, for example, that you are scheduled to speak to a group of students who want to go into finance. You decide that the one big message you want to deliver to them is “promise a lot; deliver even more.” Every story and illustration you share should reinforce that message. If you’re going to talk for 30 minutes, be prepared to repeat that exact phrase 10 or 20 times.

4. Ask, “So what?” and “Who cares?” When you create a presentation and start adding ideas, statistics and other information, pretend you’re someone else listening to your speech. For each fact, stat and statement, ask, “So what?” and “Who cares?” This exercise will force you to cut any unnecessary fat from your presentation and make everything you say relevant and interesting.

5. Use titles that sizzle. Your title is the sign on your bus that will motivate people to board it in the first place. So, craft titles that will grab your audience’s attention before you even enter the room.
You may have done presentations with titles like “7 Ways to Protect Your Wealth.” Not bad, but not exactly sizzling, either. Instead, try something like “Money, Mayhem and Miracles: 7 Ways to Protect Your Wealth.”
You can work with your staff or with marketing and content professionals to create eye-catching titles that create intrigue and draw people to your presentations.

6. Be yourself — even if you think you are boring. When you speak to groups, you want to sound like the same person your audience would meet if they spoke to you offstage. People value authenticity, and they’re turned off by any whiff of insincerity.

You are successful because of who you are, so don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. If you are a hard and direct person, speak that way. If you are nice, speak nice. If you are dry, own that dryness.

This doesn’t mean you have to be boring. Have yourself introduced as the most boring speaker ever — someone who puts audiences to sleep wherever he goes. Then, even if you go out there and mumble, you’ll get attention and interest from the audience because you’ve already addressed the elephant in the room. And you’ll create that sense of authenticity that people find attractive.

7. It’s about you, your and yours — not I, me and mine. Write your content to tap into the emotions of your audience — not to stroke your own ego.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about yourself. In fact, I am a huge proponent of the power of sharing your passion and your personal back story with audiences. Doing so builds rapport with people and demonstrates your credibility. But when you share a story or example from your life and experience, tell it with the audience in mind, and emphasize the lessons that they should be taking away from what you’re sharing with them.

Review your materials with this in mind. The words “you,” “your” and “yours” should appear a whole lot more often than “I,” “me” and “mine.” When you use “you,” you build connection. When you use too many “I”s, you risk breaking connections.

So, instead of saying, “I love this next investment strategy — it helps me be a better investor every day,” try it this way:

“You’ll love this next strategy. You can use it every day to make better investment decisions for yourself and your family.”

8. Shut down potential objections before they arise. Try to anticipate any statements, stats or information that might solicit push-back from your audience. Then raise those objections yourself during your talk. This helps shut down negative responses. By addressing potential objections, instead of waiting for them to be raised during the Q&A, you strengthen your perceived authority and trustworthiness.

Always remember that public speaking is a learned skill. You might not think of yourself as a natural-born speaker, and that’s OK; you can learn to become one.

Conversely, you might think you’re the most eloquent advisor on the planet. Maybe — but you can come across even more effectively if you hone your messaging and relate it to your audience.  

John J. Bowen Jr., a Financial Planning columnist, is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide, a global training, research and consulting firm for advisors in San Martin, Calif.

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