5 Ways to Become the GPS Your Audience Needs

Does your audience know where you’re headed with your speech? If they don’t, they’re much more likely to lose interest in what you’re saying. Here’s how you can keep your audience informed about where you are and where you’re going.

Think back to how you used to travel from your location to an unfamiliar distant address: calling to ask directions and jotting them down, taking along a cumbersome folding road map, and stopping when you got lost to ask how to get back to the main highway. That all changed when the GPS (Global Positioning System) became available. Now travelers have instant access to the best route, updates on their progress, and helpful signposts along the way.

Switch now to the speaking situation. It’s no exaggeration that your audience needs full-fledged GPS service from you. Listeners want you to clarify the destination and keep them informed about where you are. Here are five ways you can minimize confusion and maximize clarity.

ONE: Start by announcing where you’re headed.

That’s the logical first entry into a GPS, and what your audience expects from you. Nothing complicated about this. To illustrate:

“Today we’re focusing on becoming a leader in customer service. First, we’ll identify the major complaints most consumers express about customer service. Next, we will consider the best-known customer service providers, including Starbucks, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Southwest Airlines, and Zappos. Third, we will have a discussion session, giving you an opportunity to share the ‘best practices’ your company is using to attract customers and keep them satisfied.”

Using only four sentences, we have alerted our listeners to what we’re going to accomplish as a presenter. Also, we have set the stage for an interactive session.

TWO: Display attractive visuals

Few drivers would rely on a GPS that was only auditory. We like the visuals that track our travel. The more sophisticated systems display the names of the streets at the intersections you’re approaching, give the speed limit, and report your current speed.

While speaking, words alone are rarely sufficient. Sticking with the topic of customer service, your PowerPoint program could show in-action slides of your employee of the month, who was selected by high appraisals from clients. Or show simulated photos of a disgruntled customer who came to you with a complaint, followed by a posed shot of the same customer smiling broadly after you had resolved her grievance.  Or give everyone a Smiley Face button to wear, as a reminder of how they should greet each visitor.

THREE: Recalculate when you get off track

“Recalculating,” the GPS voice says, when we have left the beaten path. Quickly, we hear which turns to take to get back to the expressway.

Tactfully, we can help our audiences regain the intended direction after a detour. Assume that during your discussion of customer service, an audience member spent two or three minutes telling how his company dedicated several weeks in focus group meetings to design a new logo. At some point, you will respond graciously: “Marvin, thanks for letting us know what your group did about your logo change. Certainly every nonverbal symbol says something about us, and is important. However, our topic today centers exclusively on direct face-to-face customer contact. Soon we will schedule another session to hear ideas about logos, call centers, and direct mail. Now, back to our consideration of one-on-one customer encounters.”

FOUR: Post Your Progress Frequently

You like to know the status of your trip. When you see on the GPS screen that you have an hour and forty-five minutes left, you decide: “Can’t wait until then for lunch, so we’ll find a place soon”—which, of course, your GPS can help you do.

Audiences love to stay informed as well. Use updates like these: “That completes our analysis of the Mary Kay customer service approach. Next, we’ll see how a famous restaurant chain keeps customers happy, even when six or seven people are standing in every line with their stomachs growling.”

FIVE: Tell them when you have arrived—then stop.

“You have arrived at your destination,” your GPS announces. Then silence. Nothing else said. No, “Oh, and then there a couple of other things you need to know now that you are here.”

At the end of your speech, you have several options for letting your audience know you have finished. Possibly you will summarize what you have said. You might issue a challenge—what to do with the information you provided. Yet whatever you do after you are done, do it with as few words as possible. Really, your audience is leaving mentally anyway, so allow them the physical exit you promised.

All right, now you are ready to become the GPS for your next audience. Tell where you are going, provide useful and attractive visual aids, bring listeners back to the topic after a detour, keep them posted about your progress, and tell them when you have finished, and say no more. Your audience will enjoy the speaking journey, and will look forward to the next one.

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