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Want to Give a Talk That Impacts the Audience? Follow the Counterintuitive ‘Rule of Reversal’

Here’s a powerful rule to live by for giving powerful speeches–and how specifically to practice it.

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BY Scott Mautz - 26 Nov 2018

give a talk that impacts the audience

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

We all have to give them. No, not excuses. Talks. Speeches to influence. Keynotes to inspire. Presentations to persuade. I just happen to give them for a living.

Whether speaking in front of an audience is a profession or a point in time you just have to get through, there is one common thread running through all instances.

You want the talk to matter. You want it to resonate and have actual, tangible value for the audience. If this doesn't apply to you, then you must be a member of Congress. For the rest of us, we don't want to drone on and be absent of value.

So wherever you fall on the speaking spectrum, you'll benefit from what I call the "Rule of Reversal"--a must for giving a truly impactful speech. The rule says:

The goal of a talk is not to get a standing ovation; it's to give a standing invitation.

That is, an open, compelling invitation for the audience to adopt what you've said and to make a positive change with it in their life. The standing ovation is about you. The standing invitation is about them. It's not about what you get. It's about what you give. The Rule of Reversal.

Most people that start preparing for a speech try to envision and build towards an ideal outcome for them when they should be reversing their focus and making it all about how the audience will be impacted. By the way, if you do focus on the audience impact, it will produce the ideal outcome for you anyway.

Focusing on the outcome for you, what you get, leads you to worry too much about the wrong things--do I have enough jokes in the talk, will I come across smart if I say this, etc. Focusing on what you give, creates impact.

You want the audience compellingly invited to act on what you said. And the invitation is inviting when what you've said is anchored by one absolutely crucial thing.

Epiphanies.

Many will tell you that the point of a talk is to provide the audience value. Entertain them. Teach them something. Remind them of something important in a fresh way. All good.

But I hold a higher bar for the speaker that wants to make a real impact, which is to say the content of their talk should be anchored by a series of epiphanies. An epiphany goes beyond a mere insight. It's bigger than a head nod. It's a profound, "A-Ha" moment.

I used to work a lot with advertising agencies and soon learned that the best commercials they created were the ones based not just on an insight that is true. They were based on an insight that is soooo true.

Epiphanies woven into your talk elicit this kind of reaction. They introduce a new idea or learning in a fiercely compelling way. For example, one of my keynotes is anchored on five epiphanies evenly paced throughout the talk. It starts with an epiphany that in truth, if you're feeling uninspired, you don't have to wait around for inspiration to occur in lightning strike fashion, like most believe is required. Unbeknownst until now, you can actually proactively create the conditions where inspiration is much more likely to occur.

Whoa? You mean I can actually control when inspiration enters my life? Epiphany No. 1 delivered (or at least the audience tells me that afterward).

I have several more "A-Ha's!" yet to come in the talk, and my hope is that it's like one long, compelling invitation for the audience to initiate a new mindset. And indeed, I often get feedback on the depth of impact of my talks. That's what giving a talk is all about.

So do a little role reversal and make sure it's about them--then up the standard of your content to ensure parts of it are epiphany-worthy.

If this in and of itself is an epiphany for you, I don't need a standing ovation. Just accept my standing invitation to apply what you've learned.

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