Testing Your Speech With Focus Groups For Free
Some of you are going to call me a hypocrite when you hear me say this but I am just going to be transparent with you. I cannot stand it when people call public speaking a soft skill and I even have course about soft skills on Udemy where we talk about public speaking but here is why I hate it: when you call something a soft skill, it sounds like a soft little puppy that is warm and fuzzy. It is not quantifiable but it is just something you are supposed to like. No! There is nothing about public speaking that is not just as quantifiable, that is hard data-driven quantifiable as any aspect of Mathematics, Physics, Accounting, or Chemistry.
Here is what I mean by that: all of those things, you can test. You can do a calculation and see if it adds up. You can build a bridge and see if it falls down when a car drives over it. It is exactly the same with public speaking and presentation skills. If you have a presentation to give to 30 clients, prospects, or customers on Thursday, test your speech or presentation with two or three colleages on Tuesday at lunch. Ask them what they remember from your presentation. See if they remember your key messages. If they do not remember your messages, then you now have 100% undeniable proof that it is not working. I want you to take that speech you prepared, tear it up, and throw it in a trash can because it does not work. If you tested a bridge that goes from a city to the other over a major river, you put it up and the design instantly crumbles and 5 cars plunge inside the river, you would not continue with the design or build that bridge anywhere else. No one would ever do that. So why in the world do we think it is acceptable to give a presentation when we have no evidence that it works?
Here is how you do it: you practice your speech on video and you have two ways of doing at. Send a video of your very best presentation to a couple of colleagues. Do not tell them what you are going to do in advance and just ask them to look at it. After they have watched it, call them up, but do not ask them what they think of your presentation because they will probably tell you that it was great and that you were very confident and comfortable which is completely worthless advice. You have to ask your colleagues what they remember from your presentation. If they start off by saying that you were very polished and comfortable, you have to politely tell them that that is not what you asked for. You want to know what messages they actually remember from your presentation.
I ask this to people all the time and if they go on about my praise then I know that my speeches are complete failures. If people cannot tell me exactly what my messages were or exactly what the stories were, it means that I did not communicate well.
The other thing which is an even better way of doing this is getting a couple of colleages together a few days before your presentation and presenting in front of them. Do not tell them in advance that you are going to be testing them. Neither should you be letting them take notes because chances are that your real life customers and prospects will not be taking notes of what you are saying. Just give them your presentation and then ask them what they remember. The good news is that if they are able to successfully recall the messages that you care about, you now have empirical evidence, hard factual data that the way you are presenting is effective.
Now when you are giving the speech, you will be confident because you will know that it does not depend on luck- you know it is going to work. Anything that does not stick, throw it in the trash, and keep modifying it until you find something that actually works. Most people do not like to do this so you can almost be sure that your competitors are not doing it either. So be smart and get ahead.
You have Now Mastered Basic and Beyond Communication Skills
Congratulations! You are no longer a beginner when it comes to your communication skills. Now when you want to communicate, whether it is with one person or 15000 people, you are going to have the skills to do it. You are going to have a process to do it.
You will always start the same way by asking yourself what your objective or what your goal in this communication activity is. What is it that you want that audience to do after you are done speaking? Then you will ask yourself what are all the possible messages that you can say on that particular topic. The next step would be to narrow them down to your top 5. Then comes the part where you think about interesting and relevant stories or conversations that you had with real customers, clients, and prospects for each one of the messages that you have narrowed down. You will print out a simple paper outline so that you remember your speech. If you want to use PowerPoint, you can, but you will not throw tons of text on the slides. Instead, you will come up with an image for each one of your message. Then you will practice on video and test in front of others.
Do all of that and you will go into every communications opportunity with confidence because your audience will perceive you as comfortable and relaxed. They are going to understand you, they are going to remember your key messages, and they are going to take the actions that you want them to take. You will be a master at your communication skills. Good luck!