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In a previous article we talked about one rule presenters seem reluctant to follow; you can read that post here first. There is also a second vital rule I’ve seen presenters neglect over and over. It causes them to get off target, waste time, and end up with less than stellar results. The rule is what I like to call "the Crystal Rule.”

It gives you the right answers

This one simple rule will help save a ton of time and headache. It will help make sure you and your audience gets the most out of the presentation. And it is ALWAYS the answer to the very common question, “Where do I begin?”

What is this crystal rule?

The Crystal Rule says simply this: Before anything else, get crystal clear on your outcome!

It seems obvious enough, and most people think they're already following this rule. Most aren't, and it is too important to skip. Why? Read on.

It’s in all the success literature

It is the number one step to succeed in anything. It works for New Year's resolutions, it works for planning your vacation. It works for ensuring your presentation is a success. Every success book on how to succeed includes it, as does every goal-setting workshop.

It’s in Think and Grow Rich.

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In one of the most famous classics Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill hints at the “success secret” in every chapter. Hill doesn’t come out and bullet list the secrets of success, he makes you discover them on your own by seeing the common traits, habits, and strategies in the stories of success he shares in the book.

The first secret you’re likely to notice that he sites over and over is, “Definiteness of Purpose” It was the secret of Thomas Edison's on inventing the light bulb and Alexander Graham Bell inventing the phone, and it is a secret of all successful people. They get very specific on their goals.

Tony Robbins says it’s Step 1.

It’s the first step in what he calls the “Ultimate Success Formula” for achieving anything you want. That formula is basically these 4 steps:
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  1. Clearly decide what you want to achieve
  2. Take action toward it
  3. Notice what’s working or not
  4. Adjust your approach and persist

Simple, effective, but it all hinges on the first step, or all is wasted time.

Stephen Covey says it’s Habit 2.

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In his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey describes it as

Habit 2: "Begin with the End in Mind."

He says it means to “…start with a clear understanding of your destination…know where you’re going…so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.”

If you don’t do that, you’ll spend a lot of effort “climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall.”

Teachers call it this:

When I was studying for my undergrad in education, I had a professor that was relentless on this one thing. She would ask us over and over again until we got specific enough on our “Learning Objective.”

She would ask “How can you create an effective lesson plan if you don’t know exactly what you want the students to learn?” Of course the correct answer was, “You can’t.”

I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific.

~ Lily Tomlin

It’s all about getting specific.

Most presenters I have worked with don’t get specific enough. They usually think they do, but they don’t do it to the degree that’s required for an exceptional presentation. When I ask them what the objective is for their presentation, they usually tell me the topic.

The topic, however, is not the same thing as your objective. It is too vague.

When you are too vague on the objective of a presentation, your development process aims at answering questions like, what do I know about the topic, how can I organize it, how can I fit it all in to one hour…?

The answers to those questions give you the infamous “Data Dump” and not an effective presentation.

So what do you do?

When developing your presentation, to really get to your key objective, you can do the "Genie in a Bottle" technique (patent pending).

When a genie grants you 3 wishes, you have to take a moment to get specific. Otherwise, you could quickly spout out,  “A trip to Paris, a new car, and to win the lottery,” just to end up in Paris Arkansas, with your new Hot Wheels car and $5 scratch-off winnings.

Get specific.

If a Genie granted you just one wish for the outcome of your presentation, what would you ask for? To help sort out the specific you can ask questions like these:

  • Why have I been asked to speak?
  • Am I trying to persuade, inform or motivate?
  • What is the main reason for my talk?
  • What do I want the audience to take away?
  • How do I want them to be changed?
  • What do I want them to think, feel, do differently?
  • What will let me know my presentation was successful?
  • If the audience were to remember one thing, what would it be?

In instructional design, we often state the objective this way. “By the end of this session, the audience will be able to: insert specific action verb here." If you can't answer that question, how will you know you've succeeded? Here’s a link to a great PDF from the University of New Mexico School of Medicine about learning objectives and a list of action verbs.

A little extra work - a big payoff.

I will be honest, just like the Golden Rule, it does take a little more time and effort to use the Crystal Rule. But the payoff is well worth it.

Here are some of the benefits you’ll enjoy if you do take the time to get crystal clear on what you want to come from the presentation. You’ll be able to:

  • More easily identify things that will help achieve your outcome
  • Save time by only having to develop what you need to include
  • Quickly edit out the superfluous information by asking “Does it help me achieve my objective?”
  • Protect your audience and yourself from the dreaded data-dump
  • Enjoy increased influence, appreciation, and respect

Best News?

Not everyone makes the effort. Most people don’t capitalize on the “secret” of getting really clear on what they want out of their day, let alone their lives. And most presenters I've seen don’t harness its power either. Which means it is pretty easy to really shine (or even sparkle) when you follow the Crystal Rule!



Top photo credit: Sean Creamer via flickr cc

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