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3 Keys to a Presentation that Wins Consulting Clients

As consultants, we often give speeches and presentations. Sometimes on platforms in front of dozens or hundreds or thousands of listeners. Sometimes in small sessions with a client or a prospect. Every talk is a golden opportunity to advance your consulting business.

The power of public speaking has been on prominent display the past couple of weeks in the U.S. The national, political conventions are among the few occasions when tens of millions of people watch a series of speeches. (And heckle.)

If you ever had any doubts as to the power of public speaking, remember that President Obama’s path to the White House was ignited by a speech at one of these conventions.
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While your talks in front of audiences big and small may not land you in the position of being “the most powerful person in the free world,” they can certainly land you lucrative clients.

But, as we’ve seen at the conventions, there’s an enormous gap between speeches that soar and inspire, and those that fall flat. How do you ensure you’re on the right side of that chasm—the side that spurs prospects to engage you?

You walk your presentation through the “3 Tents” before delivering it.

Tent #1: Intent

What reaction are you shooting for? What do you want listeners to do, think, and feel as a result of your speech?

Presentations that don’t have a specific intent ramble, wander and stutter. You’ve heard those speeches and wondered where the speaker is going… right before you started surfing your email.

In contrast, when you’ve clearly defined the intent, your speech will be well directed and hit the mark.

Yesterday, I delivered a final presentation to a client. I knew I wanted them to feel confident in the results and to explicitly agree that the project met the objectives. Those were the outcomes I planned to achieve, and those were the outcomes the presentation delivered.

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Tent #2: Content

The “meat” of your speech is a message with an implication. It isn’t a litany of facts or opinions or ideas or recommendations.

Whether you’re going to be speaking for two minutes or two hours, you should be able to convey the message and what you want your audience to take away in one or two short sentences.

Your message then becomes the central pillar in the architecture of your speech. Sub-points, supporting data, illustrative tales, and so forth, wrap themselves around your message in ways and places that must be immediately understandable to your audience.

Ultimately, your message and implication should be punctuated with a “phrase that pays.” A memorable phrase that captures the essence of your point.

Attendees at some of my speeches walk away muttering, “It’s not about your shoes, it’s about their feet” which is a phrase that pays I sometimes use to reinforce Right-Side Up thinking. (Consulting isn’t about you, it’s about your clients.)

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Tent #3: Potent

Your speech must have power, and that’s all about the delivery. The very best speeches bubble over with passion and conviction.

Harness your passion and conviction by honing your oratorical skills. Study speakers you admire, practice, and diligently improve at your craft.

Review how cadence and rhythm transform good speeches into unforgettable presentations.

Learn through personal trials how the use of inflection, the power of threes, and the role of repetition and pauses will improve your talks.

One of the most powerful speeches in modern history—“I have a dream” delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial—didn’t burst spontaneously from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s lips.

He delivered almost the exact same talk to a small gathering in a gymnasium a few months earlier, and parts of the speech to intimate groups the months before that.

Most of your speeches aren’t monologues delivered to large crowds. Nevertheless, when you learn how to invest potency in those speeches, even your mid-project presentations to a few clients will improve, and your conversation with prospects will yield more fruitful results.

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Apply the “3 Tents” to your next speaking occasion, and let me know how they work for you.

Today, though—right now—tell me the best speech you’ve heard in the past few years. Post your thoughts below.


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8 Comments
  1. Paula b
    July 27, 2016 at 12:17 pm Reply

    Definitely Michelle Obama at the DNC. Poised. Pointed. And entirely heartfelt.

    • David A. Fields
      July 27, 2016 at 5:17 pm Reply

      Paula, Michelle Obama’s speech certainly hit all three tents. Her intent was crystal clear, her content epitomized a central theme weaving through a speech, and the potency of her speech was undeniable. An excellent example. Thank you for sharing.

  2. David Bertoni
    July 27, 2016 at 6:20 pm Reply

    Nice post David.

    • David A. Fields
      July 27, 2016 at 10:20 pm Reply

      David, you’ve illustrated the power of a (very) short public statement. Three words can convey plenty of meaning. I appreciate your support.

  3. Chris
    July 27, 2016 at 9:15 pm Reply

    Our organization has been approaching a year working with a marketing person in house. We haven’t exactly seen the results we were hoping for, but the phrase, “It’s not about your shoes; it’s about their feet” is perfect!

    • David A. Fields
      July 27, 2016 at 10:26 pm Reply

      Chris, your pain is a familiar one. Marketing, in particular, can be a tough investment to get a bead on. Since marketing builds over time and there are few, solid, leading indicators, it can be challenging to know whether you’re watering a healthy seed and waiting for it to sprout or you’re wasting water and time on a dead weed. Having worked with many, many clients on marketing projects, I’ve learned that putting metrics in place that allow you to discern between seeds and weeds is critical.

      Thanks for the feedback on “It’s not about your shoes; it’s about their feet.” That phrase is the punch line of a story I often tell during my speeches. Somehow it manages to drive home the point even for people who haven’t heard the story. That’s what you’re looking for when you’re developing a phrase that pays.

  4. Lacey
    July 30, 2016 at 2:25 pm Reply

    Good Afternoon, David.

    Amen. Goal, message & impact are definitely key benchmarks in public speaking. The What’s Your ‘Why’? methodology is no longer all the rage, but the standard. Your posts are always on-the-mark. Thanks!

    • David A. Fields
      July 31, 2016 at 7:15 pm Reply

      I agree with you, Lacey, that the bar has been raised on public speaking. For us as consultants, we can raise the bar on the value we provide by treating every formal presentation to a client the same way we treat a public speech. When we walk even the most mundane presentations through the Three Tents we end up delivering higher value and, importantly, being seen as more more valuable.

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