Reach Your Audience: A Formula for Patient, Peer and Staff Presentations

For many, stepping in front of a crowd to speak is about as appealing as stepping in front of a speeding freight train, yet if you can whip those nerves into submission, it can be an enjoyable and exciting experience. The reason I know this is, it wasn’t that long ago that I had a huge fear of speaking in public. When it came to my part during a reading, my classmates turned to discover I had fled the room. For the longest time after that, fleeing seemed like the most sensible option, and I would do anything to avoid a situation where I had to speak in public.

Since then, I’ve given thousands of presentations and I realize I still have lots to learn. Although the moments of sheer panic haven’t fully gone away—the thought of running out of the room still occasionally crosses my mind—I’ve learned a few techniques that help make me more effective in delivering a presentation. Whether you are presenting to a large audience or just a few, if the stakes are high you want to make sure you put you put your best foot forward.

Whenever I’m asked to work with people who want help in presenting, most believe the area where they need the most help is delivering the presentation. What most people don’t realize is that a great delivery starts long before you step in front of your audience. Of the four keys to a great presentation (Content, Design, Structure and Delivery), you might be surprised that the most important element to a persuasive presentation is how it’s structured. The secret to delivering a great presentation versus a mediocre presentation is how to best organize your content in a way that will move people, especially if your goal is to get them to take action or to persuade a person to think, feel or do something new or different.

If you were to take the typical persuasive presentation and present it reverse order—from the end to the beginning—it would probably be more persuasive. Here’s why: everyone has their own method of building a presentation. Generally, I think most of us begin with the end in mind. We start by thinking where we want to end the presentation. We think about what we want the person to get out of the presentation, or the lesson you want the audience to learn, or what we want the person to know or do. Then we think about how we can help them achieve the goal we’ve laid out for them. We give them a plan of action. Lastly, we think about all the reasons we believe this person should follow our plan. Because we build the presentation in that order, that’s the order we present it in. We start by describing what we want the audience to do, tell them how to do it, then follow up with all the reasons why.

If what you want the person to do or know differently is the END of the presentation, it doesn’t make sense to move it to the beginning; it is intended to be the end. Your job as a presenter is to step into the world of your audience and give them a perspective on WHY to change. Once you’ve presented the why and the audience is saying to themselves, “Yes, I think I need to make a change,” you then present the how and what they will get as a result of making the change.

Your goal is to lead the audience to the solution; not lead with the solution.

If you lead with your solution up-front it’s the audience’s first opportunity to object, and they are going to be thinking about that objection throughout the entire presentation. While you are talking, the audience will be evaluating everything you say though a critical eye, thinking, “This is never going to work,” “this is not necessary for me” or “I’m fine with the way things are. I don’t need to change.” Instead, build the curiosity from the get-go. Have the audience discover for themselves why they need to change. Once you get them to see for themselves the opportunity they’ve been missing, you’ve got their attention.

By flipping the presentation on its end, you’ll have the audience telling YOU “I need to make a change before you offer up the solution.” It’s much easier to get them to take action when they already believe change is in their best interest before giving them the call to action.

You are now well on your way to delivering a more persuasive presentation.

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