The focal point, aka the missing link! 

What do I mean by that? The focal point is all too often the missing link from a speaker’s talk. When you leave a conference room or a ballroom or an auditorium saying to yourself, “um, not sure what that was all about!” or “what are we supposed to do now?” or “was there even a point to all of that?” then you know the speaker neglected to provide a focal point. The focal point is that little bit of audience guidance you give, where you weave in – in your opening and then reinforce it again in your closing – what it is that you would like them to think or know or do by the time you finish talking and they leave the room. It’s a way of setting expectations, locking in focus, or, as I so often like to say, having everyone in the audience turn their brains to the same channel. When it’s used, the focal point can make a talk so much more effective.
So, let’s focus on focal points for a second …
If your “job” – your communications task (always a verb) – is to inform, review or update, then your focal point will probably be a key takeaway. For example, if you are presenting quarterly results for your division to the board of directors, and the results are extremely positive due to a variety of factors, then your opening will sound something like this: “I am so pleased to be able to tell you that we made a lot of money this quarter. There are three main contributing factors, and I’ll review each of those briefly this morning, but just know that we’ve turned the corner and made a lot of money this quarter.” Key takeaway? Yup, you got it … “we made a lot of money this quarter.” In this case, a key takeaway is the focal point.
If your “job” is to motivate or inspire, then your focal point will look or sound more like a call to action or a charge to the troops. For example, if you are trying to boost company morale after a series of layoffs, and the picture is actually rosier now with a leaner headcount, then your opening at an all-hands meeting will sound something like this: “There is no question that we all have been through a difficult and emotional few months, and we need some healing time. But I would like you to focus on the future now, it holds a lot of promise for all of us. I am going to outline our strategic plan for this year. As I do this, I am going to ask each one of you to be paying attention with an eye toward how your business unit will jump on board and what kind of a positive impact the measures in the strategic plan can have on your numbers. That’s why we’re here. I want you to leave this room with concrete ideas for how you will move forward!” In this case, a call to action is the focal point.
If your “job” is to sell or persuade, then your focal point will be a version of an ask. For example (and let’s switch to non-profit), if you are making a pitch for money (definitely persuading and selling!) and your organization has just completed a multi-year capital campaign during bad economic times, then your opening at your annual fundraising dinner will sound something like this: “Wow, what an amazing group of committed individuals you are! Over the past five years, you accomplished the impossible. Tonight, as part of this amazing program we have put together, I am going to ask you to extend your commitment and make a donation that will help us safeguard the investment all of you have made in the future of this organization.” In this case, an ask is the focal point.
These examples are generic and over-simplified, but the point is that if there is something you want your audience to think or know or do, tell them! Be clear and open and transparent. If you don’t tell them, they may not get there on their own, and then the opportunity you’ve had to be in front of them is squandered. Focus on your focal point, it makes better use of everyone’s time and energies!
Beth Levine