In an earlier entry in this blog entitles “Sales Presentation Training”, I made the slightly controversial statement that “I would venture to suggest that if it is irrelevant what people do with the knowledge you impart through your presentation your presentation itself becomes irrelevant and there is no point in giving it.”
I now recognise that this statement was misplaced. In the article I was putting forward the argument that a business presentation is invariably trying to sell something, whether it is a product/service/solution or possibly just and idea or new way of working. As a result, the best structure for a business presentation is that of a sales presentation, where you establish the need, by outlining a pain or problem, create a vision of success that your audience can buy into and then describe how you can achieve that vision and the benefits that it accrues.
Many business presentations do fit this structure and identifying the problem to be solved at the outset, is often a very good approach. However, my views are starting to mellow, and I now recognise that it is possible to justify giving a presentation, even though you are ambivalent as to what your audience do with the information you provide. In these cases the objective of the presentation is merely to inform or educate and you leave the decision of what to do with this new knowledge purely in the hands of your audience. The choice as to whether you educate your audience through a presentation rather than any other media is based on the effectiveness of the media.
So given that you want to create and deliver a purely educational presentation the question then is how should you structure it. My starting point is the same as it is for a selling presentation. You need to start by thinking about what you would like your audience to be able to do or feel after your presentation is finished and how this differs from before it. This statement suggests you already know what they can or do do now. If you don’t it may be best to try to find out in advance of your presentation or you run the risk of “teaching your grandmother to suck eggs”.
There are two ways to tackle the next part, either to choose a structure and then fill it in, or brainstorm anything and everything to do with the subject, and see what structures emerge, by collating the results of the brainstorming session.
Which ever way you choose to do it, you must have a structure, it is imperative. A loose collection of facts and opinions is of little use.
There are many structures you can use but most of the best have 3 legs or sections.
For instance you could structure the presentation in chronological order, This is how we used to do it, this is how it is done now, and this is what we propose for the future.
You can use problem /solution/benefit models, describe the problem, describe how it could be solved and then state the benefits of doing so. This is close to the classic sales presentation model.
With the” tell-show-do” structure you tell your audience how to do something, show them it and then let them have a go, this is a very participative form of presentation, which may not always be suitable for larger audiences.
If the audience needs to make a decision, then describe the alternative scenarios and the pros and cons of each. The phrases “on one hand…” followed by “on the other hand…”, “or there is the middle course…” often works well in this situation.
If none of the above work for you, choose 3 key points, consider each of these point s as the peak of a pyramid and amass around each pyramid the supporting evidence and consequences of adopting that key point. If you find that much of the supporting evidence is relevant to 2 or more pyramids, you may decided to combine those pyramids and create a new pyramid for a different key point. Aim for 3 pyramids and definitely no more than 5.
Now refine your information, cut out weaker supporting arguments, augment with stronger ones with statistical or anecdotal evidence. Keep in mind who your audience are and review your presentation by asking the question,” will my audience care about this point?” as you go through it point by point.
Once the body of the presentation is complete there are 3 other things to do.
- Think up an attention grabbing opening. Something your audience is not expecting, a rhetorical question, or a well know quotation all work well.
- Decide on your call to action, or concluding assertion which summarises what you want people to do or to think after your presentation. This should be the last thing you say before you sit down, if you continue to talk after your final call to action or assertion it will lose its effectiveness.
- Create some good visual aids which illustrate the points that you are making, if you are using PowerPoint or similar, do not be tempted to write text bullets on your slides, which remind you what to say. Any such notes as these should be confined to your speaker notes not presented to your audience. Instead try to think of some mentally stimulating images which emphasise the points you are making.
Finally don’t forget to rehearse your presentation out loud, so that when you give it you do so with passion, enthusiasm and conviction.
You can get more tips on effective presentations from my presentation training website.