Making compelling presentations helps organizations succeed. You can learn some core skills to close big accounts, attract new investors, or gain support for key initiatives.
Many presentations read like lengthy novels. In business, however, audiences don’t want a book. They want the bottom line. This requires a different approach.
After more than 35 years of making hundreds of presentations that closed sales to Fortune 100 companies, raised millions of dollars in financing, and stimulated changes in national policies, I have distilled some key elements. Try these steps on your next presentation, whether it is for a monster deal or an internal project.
1. Do your homework on the audience.
Have a clear sense of who the audience is, how many will attend, what their key interests are, and how other presenters have been successful. What criteria does the prospect have for new vendors? What rate of return does a financing source have for new investments? Who’s likely to support you? Who isn’t?
Are you dealing with decision-makers or people who will influence the decision? Sometimes the most important thing for a successful presentation is getting the right audience. Find out who will make decisions and how they will decide. Ask the appropriate people to attend.
2. Identify your audience’s point of view and where you want them to be when you complete your presentation.
Note what obstacles lie between you and the result you want to reach. What are the likely objections? How much of a shift in perspective do you need to create?
Who can help you overcome concerns? You don’t need to make the whole case yourself. Often, it’s better to get third parties to make key points for you. Use testimonials, independent market experts, or others to support your presentation.
3. Start with your conclusion.
Unless you are trying to persuade a hostile audience that needs more warming up, give your conclusion and key supporting points right up front. This attracts audience interest and provides an outline of your presentation.
For example, a client’s management team had a critical presentation to a major account. After traveling many hours to visit the prospect, the team learned that it might have less than 30 minutes with the key decision-maker. The team presented its conclusion and key points so compellingly at the start of the presentation that the decision-maker extended the discussion to three hours and requested his staff to develop a deal.
4. Chart out your key points, then fill in the details.
View your conclusion as a hypothesis and see what you need to prove it. This approach is far faster than developing lots of material and then figuring out to say.
I learned this approach in leading projects for McKinsey & Company, an international management-consulting firm. With time and money at a premium, I accelerated the process of developing key conclusions for demanding clients. I wrote the conclusion (or hypothesis) at the top of a blank sheet and then underneath I arrayed the points that would be necessary to support it. I quickly found out what information I needed to develop. If the details didn’t support the conclusion, I revised the conclusion.
5. Use a sounding board to help develop and express your story.
Find a knowledgeable businessperson to whom you can tell your story. Ask them to help you draw out the significance of what you offer and how it can be valuable to others.
6. Practice before you perfect it.
Most presenters wait until they have the presentation completed before they practice it before a live audience. Unfortunately, many people get crunched on time and don’t take time to practice the presentation, much less to modify it.
I ask my clients to try out their story line with a friendly audience before they polish it. You’ll quickly learn whether you’re on the right track. Practice internally, not on the people you want to persuade.
7. Connect first, present second.
Take time before you start the presentation to make eye contact and deliver your key conclusion and supporting points. Don’t turn down the lights for your projector or flood the audience with handouts before you begin. You need to establish a personal connection first.
8. Convey passion.
Your presentation pages, overhead transparencies, or slides are like boats on a river. The energy and passion with which you deliver them is the river’s current. Without passion, the presentation won’t go anywhere. Be credible and concrete and convey a sense of what’s possible. In starting new businesses and financing growing ones, I conveyed an engaging vision with conviction to attract support.
9. Outline the next steps for the audience to take.
Think through what actions you want people to take. Refer to these at the start of the presentation.
10. Request a response.
Your best chances for a favorable response will be at the end of your presentation, not days or weeks later. Strike while the iron is hot. Tailor your request to the presentation. “May I take your order now?” “Would you be willing to invest $___ in our business?” Direct, concise questions prompt fence sitters into action or elicit a response to help you determine what stands in the way of further action.
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