The best presentations tell a compelling tale that brings the audience from Point A to Point B along a clear pathway. Great public speakers focus on the essentials, paring down their presentation to relevant facts that motivate audiences to action.
Five essential tips for winning presentations can give you an edge whether you’re presenting to a corporate board, a group of investors, or your colleagues.
1 – Start at the End: Know Your Goal
The philosopher Aristotle counseled that one should embark on a plan with the end goal in mind. That’s good advice, especially for presentations. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Why am I giving this presentation?
- What does my audience want to get out of it?
The first consideration is your reason for giving this presentation. What do you hope to achieve from your talk? Some goals you may wish to achieve from a presentation include:
- Sales/Motivation—You want to motivate the audience to do something such as purchase a product, learn more, or take the next step. They must leave the room and do something with what you’ve told them.
- Learning—Your goal is to give information to recipients in a way that they remember, retain, and use.
- Consensus-Building—Meetings designed to gain consensus around a topic follow a consensus-building formula. The goal is to have the audience and leader in agreement about an issue or action item.
- Problem Solving—Problem-solving talks focus on sharing an issue and welcoming ideas to resolve it.
Once you’ve identified the goal of your presentation, other aspects of researching, preparing, creating, and delivering an effective presentation develop more easily.
2 – Identify Your Audience: Audience Advocacy
After identifying your goal, the next most important element of a winning presentation is a concept called audience advocacy. This means that everything in your presentation, from start to finish, must be created from the perspective of the audience.
Who is your audience? Do you know to whom you’re presenting, and their current level of interest or knowledge about your topic? These are important questions to ask as you’re preparing your presentation. When you know your audience, you can better determine what you should talk about and how to talk about it. You’ll be able to create a presentation that addresses their concerns, questions, and ideas.
Winning presenters know that everything you say or do during a presentation must serve the needs of your audience. With this in mind, you’re delivering a presentation. Leave it out, and you’re delivering a monologue.
3 – Focus on the WIIFY: What’s In It for You
When you emphasize the, “What’s in it for you?” you’ll naturally speak about the benefits for your audience, rather than the features. It’s the, “Why should I care?” question in everyone’s mind as they listen to your presentation. When you emphasize how the audience members benefit from the information that you are presenting, you naturally create a more engaging, attention-grabbing presentation.
If you’re ever in doubt about whether something is a feature or a benefit, think about it this way: a feature is a fact. The features of a product or service remain the same no matter who you’re speaking to, but the benefits change based on how the features impact the audience.
4 – Edit Ruthlessly: Keep It Short
Nothing ruins a good presentation like a presenter who doesn’t know when to stop. Given your objective, your audience’s level of interest and understanding, and the benefits for your audience, it’s time to decide what you’ll include in your presentation. This is the point at which many go astray, lumping everything and the kitchen sink into their presentations.
Data dumps don’t move your audience. If your goal is to cure insomnia and put your audience to sleep, by all means stand at the front of the room and recite every fact known to mankind about your topic. If your goal is to give a dynamic, exciting, convincing, and effective presentation, then you need to think about what you are going to include in your presentation well in advance of standing in front of the room.
Go through the information you hope to present and ruthlessly cut anything that:
- Will not help you achieve your objective,
- Won’t address your audience’s interests, or
- Won’t tell them what’s in it for them.
It’s not the length of a presentation that counts, but how well it is communicated. Think of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It’s one of the shortest presidential speeches ever delivered, but probably one of the most memorable.
Another great example of how a short, focused presentation can be effective was Bill Gate’s TED Talk. His recent presentation clocked in at half the allotted time. Gates managed to make his point effectively in just less than nine minutes.
5 – Script the Speech: Choose a Presentation Flow
Presentation flow refers to how you unveil information during your talk. It is the structure of the narrative—the bones of the story that you tell during your presentation that create dramatic appeal and shape your audience’s understanding.
There are 16 flow structures, which are presented in detail in Presenting to Win. Some of the most common include:
- Numerical—A numerical flow follows a “Top 10” or other numbered formula to illuminate a concept or share ideas.
- Chronological—A chronological flow follows a timeline, either from last to first or first to last, to share information in a logical fashion.
- Issue/Action—The issue/action formula presents an issue, then provides suggested action steps.
- Form/Function—Form and function organizes a presentation around a central concept, then shows different ways that concept can be applied to business situations.
- Features/Benefits—A features and benefits flow is used most frequently in sales demonstrations. The features of a product are listed, followed by an explanation of the benefits of each.
- Problem/Solution—The speaker presents a problem, and then follows up with a suggested solution. Sometimes these meetings are used to present a problem and brainstorm solutions.
- Opportunity/Leverage—An opportunity/leverage flow begins by sharing the opportunity under discussion. Next, the speaker describes ways the business can leverage the opportunity for growth or profit.
Which flow you choose depends on both your goals and audience’s needs. A CEO presenting a building project to company employees may follow a simple chronological timeline, outlining the completed work and what is still to come. However, if there is strong skepticism among the audience, the CEO may wish to focus on features/benefits instead of chronology.
Choosing the right flow structure can greatly enhance your presentation’s story, while the wrong flow structure hinders from it. If you’re not sure about which structure to choose, review the goals of your presentation and your audience’s needs.
A Great Speaker Is Made, Not Born
Although it’s tempting to think that great communicators are born, the truth is that most great speakers learn their craft from experts in the field.
These tips and others can be found in Jerry Weissman’s book, Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story. You can also learn more about his workshops and courses to improve your speaking and persuasion skills. Whether you are a CEO leading a shareholder’s meeting or a marketing manager hoping to gain consensus around a new advertising program, learning the techniques of great presentations can advance in your career.