According to the results of a recent survey I undertook, 80% of people finish their presentations with either a summary of their main points or a Question & Answer session. While both these activities have their merits and should usually be included as part of a presentation, I think 80% of people are missing a trick.
Before I reveal what is being missed, let us start by looking at why we give presentations in the first place. In business there are three and only three types of presentation. I talked about these in an earlier post on Presentation Endings. They are:
A. The Entertaining Presentation, the objective of this type of presentation is purely to entertain, make the audience laugh and smile.
B. The Informative Presentation, designed to transfer knowledge from the presenter to his audience.
C. The Influencing Presentation, which tries to influence the audience in some way, i.e. to make them think differently after the presentation then they did before.
In my view, the vast majority of business presentations are “Influencing Presentations”. They are trying to sell something, it may be a product, a service, a solution or maybe just an idea, or a new way of thinking or working but they are inevitably about instilling some change in the audience.
To get people do something you have to tell them what it is they should do. You can’t just hint at it, you are always best telling them straight, so that there is no ambiguity and it is clear exactly what they should do. This is where a “call to action” is very important. By having a “call to action” at the end of your presentation you can make it very clear what the audience should do next. Summarising the main benefits or having a question and answer session after your call to action dilutes that call. So 80% of people who do not finish with a “call to action” that tells their audience exactly what to do next are missing a trick. The have spent all their time and effort getting their audience all revved up, but not told them where to go.
There is an old saying in presentation circles, “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them”. While the sentiment is a good for a knowledge transfer presentation, if you are trying to influence people, it ignores the need for a call to action. I think a better phrase would be” tell them why they should listen, tell them, tell them what to do next”.
After all, the objective of an influencing presentation is to get people to do something. So when you are creating the presentation that place to start is with the statement that tells people what to do, which is the last thing you are going to say. Then work backwards from there to where your audience are now, in order to justify the call to action and make people willing to take the action. That will define the route your presentation has to take, which will take your audience from their initial state through the tipping point to where you want them to be when you issue your call to action, confident in the belief that they will be ready to take that step.