I recently attended a full-day workshop hosted by Tamsen Webster called Building Blocks for Better Talks.
First, let’s get the obvious out on the table: I’m a fan of Tamsen. Actually, no, more than that. I’d consider myself an advocate at this point, she’s been that instrumental in my professional growth.
So, if you are a communicator (and we all are), go follow Tamsen on Instagram and listen to her weekly video tips. They’re fantastic. Better yet, if you have the opportunity to hear her speak, do it. The videos make even more sense after you understand her Red Thread mindset.
Oh, and full disclosure: there is a lot more to the Red Thread than I shared here in this blog post. My focus was on how to apply it, not what it was. But if any of this spoke to you, I encourage you to connect with Tamsen; as her bio says, she’s the idea whisperer.
Back to the workshop: my company was kind enough to cover the cost for me to attend, even though public speaking isn’t really a critical part of my job. The condition? I had to take what I learned and present it to my team of services professionals.
In other words, build a talk around building talks. #meta
On our team, we do a lot of training, both among ourselves (knowledge sharing) and with our customers (product training and on-boarding).
We also support our sales team, often stepping in to highlight the value of our services as part of a bigger partnership.
Now, normally, when you think about high-powered, impactful talks, you think about that keynote speaker on a big stage with three huge screens behind them and a wireless lapel mic.
You aren’t thinking about the 6 minutes you get during the sales pitch Zoom meeting to go through 10 talking points that are super-important as to why ACME Company will choose to do business with us over our competitor.
But you should.
In fact, if you know you only have 6 minutes, those 6 minutes have to deliver the kind of information that moves the deal toward a state where services are a no-brainer.
Those 6 minutes are different than 6 minutes of how-to product training. Or 6 minutes of knowledge sharing. Which brings me to my first lesson from the workshop.
Lesson 1: Know the Field of Play
All great talks have a core idea at the heart, and I’ll talk more about that in a minute. But not all talks have to present that idea the same way. In fact, you should structure your talk around two key areas:
- The amount of time you have to present
- Who you’re presenting to
Quick example: Is the CMO in the room? You’ll support your big idea in a different way than you would to a practitioner.
Related side bar (and soapbox moment)
Sales teams should look at a deal cycle like you would a workshop. A workshop has smaller modules of information presented over the course of time, but focused around one big theme or idea. Depending on the audience, and which pieces of information are most critical to pass along, each module has a specific purpose. Some are meant to plant smaller seeds that grow into bigger discussions down the road. The key is to make sure you introduce those smaller pieces at the right time, or it will interrupt the flow of your deal cycle.
That 6 minute services pitch? That should lead to a 60 minute services presentation, subsequent discovery, and ultimately a customized plan in your proposal that will make your customer the hero at her company. So do it early in the cycle during discovery, not at the final presentation. You feel me?
When I realized that the same idea would need to be presented in different ways depending on the time and audience, I came away with Lesson 2.
Lesson 2: Know Your Truth
At the heart of the Red Thread mindset is a core truth for your idea. Your core truth is something that is indisputable.
If you know it, then you can tie your product or service to it from one end, and the goals of your customer to it from the other.
For product training and knowledge sharing, I feel like this is one of the harder things to figure out.
After all, the whole point of these types of presentation is to get all the information out there in the open for someone else to absorb! Is it really a good idea to massage, splice, and reframe the information?
Yes. Here’s why.
Who has sat in on a training session that was basically a knowledge dump? After 5 minutes you’re disengaged and thinking, “well, there’s going to be a recording in the Wiki, so if I never really need to figure this out I can just look there. I’mma check Twitter.”
What would make it better? Knowing why you should care. I call this the benefit to the benefit (shout out to my dad for that timeless solution selling tip).
Defining the core truth is like creating a statement around your benefit to the benefit.
Product Feature: Real-time reporting
Benefit: Make actionable decisions on the fly
Benefit to Benefit: Spend less money on things that aren’t working, double down on what is
Core truth: Data is historical by nature, so the older it is, the harder it becomes to make smart decisions about the future.
You’re nodding your head, right? Can’t dispute this fact. It’s a core truth.
You can’t unsee a core truth, just like you can’t unsee the drunk-fighting-octopus-narwhal-unicorn in the photo below:
Once your audience believes in your core truth, all you have to do is lead them back toward the thing you wanted them to do in the first place.
(PS – Notice how the core truth doesn’t mention the feature? That’s important.)
I still have to give my presentation to the team, and really don’t want it to be a knowledge dump. So, I plan to apply these two lessons to the information I learned about how the Red Thread mindset builds better talks.
Then, I would want to look back at a couple of our most common presentations across training, knowledge sharing, and sales:
- What is our core truth in each of these talks?
- What would the typical talk track look and sound like?
- Where and why would we need to expand or contract?
My hope at the end of this exercise is to give my team a framework for both thinking about and building the kinds of talks that will make us stand out as trusted advisors and critical pieces of the vendor-client relationship.
In the meantime, I hope you can take some of these ideas and apply this thinking to your own presentations. Thanks for listening!
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