By Jim James, Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of The UnNoticed Podcast.
According to him, you need to look at three key areas if you want to have a successful presentation. First is your ability to develop a compelling and captivating message for your audience.
Creating slides effectively is another skill you need to consider. It’s not necessary to use slides, but if you need one and it’s especially about business presentations, you have to avoid the typical death by PowerPoint (i.e., using a lot of texts and bullet points).
The third one is your delivery skills. Note that having a great message is not enough. You also have to deliver your message in a comfortable and convincing way.
When he works with entrepreneurs and business owners, Andrea and his company look at these three key areas to help their clients improve their ability to pitch, present, and communicate their ideas.
Knowing and Profiling Your Audience
Before having a message, you have to start with your audience. Many people make the mistake of starting with PowerPoint and putting together some slides first. However, Andrea pointed out that when you’re giving a presentation, you have to consider it as your audience’s presentation — not yours.
Think of a presentation as a present. If you want to give someone a present, it would be that person’s present and not yours. Therefore, you have to make sure that you know your recipient to be able to buy something that they like. Similar to that, when giving presentations, you have to think of your audience first — their needs and the context. Before you start thinking about your message, before you open up PowerPoint, start first with your audience.
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When profiling your audience, Andrea shared the ABC of presentation. It stands for your audience, their burning needs, and the context.
- Audience. Take the time to ask yourself questions about your audience: Who are they?
- Burning Needs. Identify what their burning needs are: What do they expect from your presentation? What challenges do they have? How do these challenges relate to your activities or to your topic?
- Context. In terms of context: At what time of the day will you be presenting? In what kind of room will it take place? If you want to show some visuals, is there a screen or a projector to help you do that? If it’s an online presentation, what tool are you going to use? How are you going to use it? How and when are you planning to interact with your audience?
While you can create a great presentation without this ABC, Andrea noted that you’ll have the risk of delivering a fantastic presentation before the wrong audience.
What Separates a Great Presentation From a Bad One?
From a visual perspective, Andrea always encourages their clients to follow a simple visual approach.
If you think about slides, you have to think about them as something to reinforce your message. They are not the main thing. Whatever you show on the screen, it doesn’t have to replicate what you’re saying because people can’t read and listen at the same time.
From a message perspective, one of the key success factors that you need to consider is your ability to simplify your message. Many entrepreneurs — people who know so much about and are close to a particular subject — tend to think that everything is important; that they need to communicate everything. However, if you put yourself in the audience’s shoes, if everything is important, then nothing really is important. This is why it’s essential to simplify the message.
Image from Unsplash
You also have to develop a clear storyline or structure when presenting. Think about how you can capture your audience at the beginning; how you can develop your key messages; how you can end your presentation with a clear conclusion and call-to-action so that they’re prompted to do something after your presentation. Structuring is key to making it easier for your audience to follow you and remember what you say.
Creating a Logical and Compelling Narrative
As Andrea has emphasised, the process of creating a logical and compelling narrative always starts with the audience. But when they work with their clients, they also make sure to have a clear objective. And the objective is not just about sharing some information, which is a common mistake that presenters make. If that will be your sole objective, then there really is no need to give a presentation. The objective has to go beyond just that.
After knowing your audience and objective, you and your people need to brainstorm. Use simple but powerful creativity techniques to identify interesting ideas that can be included in the content of your presentation.
After that, take all your ideas and create a clear structure. One of the simplest but most powerful principles in communication is the so-called “Rule of Three.” This states that the human mind likes groups of three. It will be hard for people to remember or process things if there are more than three pieces of information. If you have 10 or 20 important things to say, it won’t matter. You have to group your ideas into three key messages.
In sum, if you want to create an effective presentation structure, you have to have an introduction that captures your audience. Then, communicate your three key messages. If your presentation is a short one, summarise; if it’s long, there’s no need for summarisation. Afterwards, have a powerful conclusion by making things clear to your audience: What was your point and why should they care about it?
Image from Ideas on Stage’s website
While there is no magic number in terms of how long an optimal presentation should be, Andrea recommended around 20 minutes. Since 2010, their company has been working with more than 500 TEDx speakers. If you’re a TEDx speaker, no matter who you are, you will be given no more than 18 minutes to present. This is because of the difficulty to keep the audience’s attention high for more than that amount of time.
If you have an hour, for instance, for a business meeting, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to consume the full hour. You can allot 10 minutes for warm up, 20 minutes for presentation, and the remaining 30 minutes for discussion.
What About Presenting Without PowerPoint?
There are instances when people just won’t have the infrastructure or technology to present with PowerPoint slides or any other presentation tool.
Andrea emphasised that you don’t really have to use slides. The ability to create and deliver a powerful presentation has nothing to do with your presentation tool. But it can help in amplifying your message. From that perspective, presentation tools can be useful.
However, you don’t have them all the time. If you have a compelling and simple message that is clear, interesting, and enjoyable for your audience, your presentation can still be memorable. If you know how to deliver that message in a way that’s comfortable and convincing — whether it’s a face-to-face presentation or an online one — then PowerPoint doesn’t really matter.
Once you’ve also developed your message, you should always ask yourself: Would it help to amplify my message if we use some slides? If the answer is yes, then it makes sense to start thinking about how you can illustrate your message in the most effective way. If you think about TED Talks, some of the best ones do not actually use slides at all. And that shows how it’s definitely possible to deliver fantastic presentations with no technology and no slides.
Finding and Conveying a Topic for Your Audience
Andrea always says that you need to animate your audience and not your slides. And in terms of communicating a compelling message for them, especially in business, it has to be original and enjoyable.
Image from Unsplash
One of the things that work really well is sharing stories, anecdotes, and examples. Every time you have an important message to communicate, ask yourself if there’s a story that you can tell to illustrate a particular point. People remember stories much more than just facts and figures. It doesn’t have to be a once-upon-a-time story. It could be a personal story or something that happened to you that made you interested in a particular project. It could be anecdotes of other people. It could also be a story of a brand’s success or of an organisation that’s effectively doing the thing or strategy that you’re talking about. If you think about it, there’s always a story to tell.
Another powerful method in communication is doing an analogy, which is a comparison between two things. When you compare something that your audience is not yet familiar with (e.g., your message, or idea of a product or service) to something that they already understand and know, then you can make a connection. That’s when learning happens.
For example, when Steve Jobs launched the first personal computer in the 1980s, he used the analogy stating that the personal computer is like a bicycle for our mind. If humans have a bicycle, we can become very fast even though we’re not the fastest animal. That’s what the computer is for Steve: It can make you become faster and more productive. If he used technical details, nobody would have remembered and understood those details.
Andrea further pointed out that in presentations, especially business ones, people have the need to communicate data. However, many mistakenly assume that data and numbers are intrinsically meaningful. That’s not how the brain works. If you want to communicate data, you also need to put it into perspective. When Apple launched the first iPod, they didn’t say that it has a capacity of five gigabytes. They said that the five gigabytes are the equivalent of a thousand songs in your pocket. And a thousand songs in your pocket is universal — it’s the same thing to everybody.
As some of his go-to inspirations in storytelling and presenting, Andrea mentioned Garr Reynolds, author of “Presentation Zen,” Microsoft’s Chief Product Officer Panos Panay, and Ideas on Stage’s Chief Inspiration Officer Phil Waknell.
To reach out to Andrea, check him out on LinkedIn and Instagram. He and his company also offer an online tool called the Impactful Presenter Scorecard, which allows you to assess your presentation skills in less than three minutes. He further runs a free weekly web class about all things presentation on Eventbrite.
This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast The UnNoticed, you can listen here.