Getting Your Point Across

By Lain Ehmann

Michael Sheehan knows how to get his point across. He also knows how to get yours across too. Sheehan, president and founder of Washington, D.C.-based Sheehan Associates, has been paid as much as $15,000 per day by clients with household names such as Clinton (Hillary and Bill), the Teamsters Union and Tiffany & Co. With his background in directing – he attended the Yale School of Drama with Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver – and speech therapy – he still occasionally deals with the re-emergence of a childhood stutter – Sheehan is uniquely positioned to advise high-powered execs on how to motivate, how to convince and how to sell. And let’s face it, we’re all selling all the time, particularly when we’re in front of a group.

In Fast Company Magazine’s The Rules of Business: 55 Essential Ideas to Help Smart People (and Organizations) Perform at Their Best (Doubleday, 2005), Sheehan offers these tips to anyone speaking in front of a group.

Know your objective and your audience. This, according to Sheehan, is the most important point of all. Don’t even try to create your message until you know what you want to achieve and what effect you want to have on your audience. Everything else stems from there.

Make three points. People’s ability to remember large amounts of information and data is limited. You’ve got an opportunity to leave them with three things. What three things are most important for you to convey?

Be animated. Who wants to watch a boring speaker? According to Sheehan, you’re most likely a lot duller than you think. “The key to the voice is over exaggeration,” he says. “If you don’t feel a little goofy, you’re not doing it enough.”

Make the first impression count. Just as in sales, the first few seconds color everything else that follows.

Forget about memorization. Learning your speech word for word makes you look and sound like a robot. Even if you’ve given the same talk a hundred times before, you want to look and sound fresh. Vary words or stories to keep things interesting.

Think in terms of sound bites. We live in a society of elevator pitches and the phrase that pays. Good catch phrases stick, even if nothing else you say does.

Trigger the ooh. Surprise your audience somehow – in a good way, of course. Figure out how to catch their attention with something out of the ordinary.

Tell the truth. This one is self-explanatory.

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