Back in the days before we had satnav systems to guide us, we used to plot out long journeys by a series of way points. We knew that as long as were on a certain road heading towards a certain place that we were on course. We then knew where we were headed after each landmark until we reached our destination.
Knowing each stage of the journey ahead of time was reassuring. It encouraged us to carry on without concern. Am I the only one who occasionally finds it disconcerting when I’m following instructions from a satnav without really knowing where I am or which route I’m taking?
Business presentations are also a journey. They should take your audience through a structured process that ensures their most important questions are answered. At the end of it you should have made a persuasive case for whatever you want to happen next.
Explain where you’re going
Like anyone on a journey your audience needs to know where it is heading. Not only do you have to be clear about the route, you need to explain it to them. This is a fundamental feature of successful learning – you have to know what it is you’re trying to understand before you can absorb it.
As a presentation skills coach I spend a lot of time helping people build links into their presentations. Too often I see presentations where there’s no obvious pathway of discovery, enlightenment and persuasion. Slide after slide of key points with no obvious thread that links them into a coherent story.
If you really want people to take in your message, here’s what you should do:
· Explain the route you are going to take at the start.
· Refer back and recap as you pass major ‘landmarks’ and remind people what’s coming next.
· Explain how the next slide or section relates to and builds on what they have just learned. Do this before you put up the next slide. Anticipation helps prepare people to absorb the point you want to make.
How to build links
‘I’m going to talk about this, and then this and then this…’ is a pretty dull and unimaginative approach.
Better options might be:
‘Have you noticed how…? I’m going to explain why that happens.’
‘So if that’s what matters, how should we do that in practice?’
‘What might happen if you could do… in your business?’
‘I’ll explain later some of the things that could go wrong when you do X.’
‘I’ll give you some examples later of putting all of this into practice.’
‘So can you start to see why X is so important if you want to achieve Y?’
Stories and anecdotes can also put links into your presentations. They can give your audience an opportunity to reflect on how what you’ve told them, or are about to tell them, relates to their own experience.
A clear structure also helps your audience relax. They haven’t got to sit there wondering ‘where all this is taking them.’ If you’ve planned your presentation structure for maximum impact they will also see that their most important questions are going to be answered and when they will be answered.
This helps them absorb everything else you are saying and gives them a signal for when they need to be paying particular attention.
The weakest link?
Every chain is only as strong as its weakest link. When you miss an important link in your presentation the whole chain can be broken. And even if the link is there, if the audience doesn’t spot it because you didn’t flag it up, the route will cease to make sense.
Putting this sort of structure into your presentation, and making it all seem natural and unforced, isn’t easy. But it will make all the difference if you want to keep people on-board until the final stop.
Need help planning or preparing your next big presentation?
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I have many years of senior sales and account management positions.
This experience taught me how to interpret exactly what clients are seeking, and what they need and expect to see and hear from the successful bidder. We draw on this experience to give your team an additional competitive advantage by building on their existing strengths while improving their team-working and self-awareness.