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Give a great speech: Three tips from Aristotle

Convey your message, convince your audience, and confirm where they stand. A method from the master of rhetoric himself.

Getting a presentation ready for primetime can sometimes be frustrating. Content is seldom an issue; organisation is. This is especially true with major presentations either to a senior executive or board of directors. I like to impart a little advice I received from a Jesuit teacher who coached me for extemporaneous speech competitions.

“Three things you need to do, John,” I recall him saying. “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.” It was not until years later that I learned that this advice was not developed by the good Jesuit fathers but rather by the master of rhetoric himself, Aristotle. Not only did it work for me then, but it has also worked for a generation of executives with whom I have worked, as well as heads of state, and heads of committees.

Simple, direct and memorable, this Aristotelian “triptych” is a handy method to employ whenever you need to make a presentation, long or short, that you want people to remember. It is especially helpful for those in authority who need to build a case for their ideas as well as themselves.

1. Tell them what you will tell them. This is your opener in which you lay out why you are speaking to the audience. Your message should be predicated on two things: what you want to say, and what the audience needs to hear. Too many presenters focus on the first half but not the second. Knowing what your audience needs to hear is critical to the leadership aspect of your message. You are there to provide direction.

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