Seven keys to compelling presentations.

We all present, whether in meetings, explanations, or conversations. Each time we present, we’re wielding influence. Here are seven ways to strengthen your influence.

1. Know your stuff. The meaning, reasons, details, background, challenges, exceptions, and weaknesses. You don’t have to share it all, but you should know it. Uncertainty voids authority, and you can’t slake interest without substance. John Boyd, the influential military theorist, prevailed in presentations because he did his homework, didn’t sling half-baked ideas, and never used imaginary statistics. When you know your stuff, no one can discredit your argument.

2. Speak truth. There’s no point to presenting if you can’t be trusted. When you tell the truth, people respect you, even if they disagree. People who disagree can work together. People who don’t trust each other can’t.

3. Tell the story. We live, dream, and relate in story. We aspire, create, and prevail through story. We perceive, grieve, loathe, and love by story. Story is the universal language. It defines and divides us, motivates and sustains us. Seth Godin, marketing guru, observes about story, “People like us do things like this. There is no more powerful tribal marketing connection than this.”

4. Develop a style that serves your audience. Style speaks more loudly than words. Are you selling? Spinning? Posturing? Hiding? Fast-talking? Boring? Listeners don’t mind conviction, persuasion, emotion, velocity, or gentle pacing — as long as you’re speaking to them and serving their interests. Present as if to those you love.

5. Don’t wing it. Most people are smarter than you realize. The more prepared you are, the more respect you convey. Nearly everyone will endure respect. Few will abide condescension.

6. Feature the big news. Signal your bold strokes. Preparing the stage is fine, but don’t build the theater before platforming your point. The longer you wait, the smaller your audience.

7. Believe it. Even if you’re presenting for the thousandth time, delivering bad news, or running on no sleep, remember why you’re doing this. How it makes things better. That your message is the very thing someone needs. This will keep you alive in the process, and life is contagious.

Five tips for writing a book introduction

When you buy a novel, you’re paying for a story. That’s why storytellers drop you right into the action. Never keep a customer waiting.

Nonfiction is different. Readers buy books to reap benefits — whether it’s to learn something or gain expertise. They want to go somewhere, and your introduction is the entrance ramp to their highway.

The next time you’re ready to write an intro, consider these five guidelines:

1. Create thirst, don’t slake it.
Feed them pretzels and point to the water.

2. Offer samples.
Delight your readers with a few surprises right up front and they’ll want more.

3. Keep it timeless.
If you’re rushing a book to market on an explosive event, go for the moment. But if your theme is timeless (e.g., prayer), resist the urge to anchor it in today’s news. Todays news is tomorrow’s old newspapers. Bring transcendence instead.

4. Skip the obvious, and never condescend.
Even if we’re unhappy with the way things are, we don’t need to be told we’re unhappy. We know that already. Show us some light. Walk us through the woods and reveal a scenic vista. And don’t assume we’re wringing our hands. Even concerned readers are seldom quaking in their boots. More often they’re exploring what others have to say. Always write to a reader more intelligent than yourself. That person wants to know what you think.

5. Make it personal without making it about you (unless it’s a memoir!).
Readers welcome a companion. Especially one who shares colorful or valuable experience. But they seldom tolerate egotism. Intros that are all about the author leave no room for the reader. Unless your story is what they paid to read. David Ogilvy’s Confessions of an Advertising Man begins with eleven paragraphs about himself. Here is one of them:

“My boyhood hero had been Lloyd George, and I had expected to become Prime Minister when I grew up. Instead, I became an advertising agent on Madison Avenue; the revenues of my nineteen clients are now greater than the revenue of Her Majesty’s Government.”

These two sentences — both about the author — so intrigued me I stayed with him through all eleven chapters that followed.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but a nudge toward effective first impressions. Jerry Jenkins recently blogged about first lines. They’re worth every hour it takes to craft them. So are intros. Entice, amaze, whet, and compel. Guarantee a hearing. You’re making new friends, and you want them to stick around.

The thing you are unable to write

You should always be trying to write a poem you are unable to write, a poem you lack the technique, the language, the courage to achieve. Otherwise, you’re merely repeating yourself, going nowhere because that’s always easiest” (John Berryman, quoted in Letters & Life, by Brett Lott).

This week saw the thousandth blog from a good friend. Each post represents hours of conversation with her Creator. I can tell. When I’m with her, I think of Him.

Another friend completed her novel this week. 80k words that didn’t live together last year. And they didn’t gather themselves or float into focus. They were unruly, resisting arrangement.

For these writers, this week marks one less thing they are unable to do, and one more thing we can be grateful for.

Humility in writing and pastoring

The greatest challenge with wielding influence is getting out of the way. Whether I’m writing, teaching, or praying, my focus often drifts back to me — and I am not the point. Brett Lott references this theme in Letters & Life, his slim volume on being a writer:

I saw, suddenly and fully, that a story was about the people involved. I saw that embellishment brought to the table an unwanted intruder: the author. . . . [that] I had to be the last one heard from in this pile of words I was arranging, and that humility was the most valuable tool I could have, because the people about whom I wanted to write mattered so very much more than the paltry desires of the writer himself. . . . To be a writer is to be humble. To be a writer means to get oneself out of the way” (pgs. 105, 108).

Moving others toward their Lord requires stepping back. Making room. As it turns out, spiritual renewal is preceded by receding.

You see, the only life that pleases God and that can be victorious, is His life — never our life, no matter how hard we try. But inasmuch as our self-centered life is the exact opposite of His, we can never be filled with His life, unless we are prepared for God to bring our life constantly to death. And in that we must co-operate by our moral choice” (pgs. 25-26, The Calvary Road, by Roy Hession).