Need to develop a presentation? First, reverse engineer it.

I enjoy public speaking and presenting. My family would say that this is because, deep down, I am a ham and have never really let go of my halcyon days in theatre during high school and college. Perhaps (OK…yes). But I think the bigger reason is that I get joy and fulfilment out of informing, enlightening and guiding people. I love to see that light bulb go on when something I’ve shared somehow brings context to their leadership communications, their ability to engage audiences, and the brands they manage.

A Strategic Approach to Business Presentations

The key to making an effective business presentation is being strategic in your approach to developing it. In our presentation skills training workshops, I tell participants that when they create a presentation — whether for a conference of 5,000 people or for a meeting of just five — they need to first reverse-engineer it. More specifically, they need to strategically consider and identify what they want that presentation to do: the impact they want it to have on their audience and the messages they want and need to convey.

START WITH YOUR AUDIENCE — First and foremost, when developing any business presentation, you start with your audience. You not only identify who they are, but also consider what insights you might have about them. For example, what situation do they find themselves in; what are their responsibilities; what is keeping them up at night; what are their drivers of success? The more insight you have about the audience, the more you can tailor and customize your message and presentation to them.

WHAT DO I WANT THE AUDIENCE TO DO — Then I consider what I want my audience to do as a result of hearing my presentation: the call to action of my audience. It’s an obvious question, but one many people completely overlook, never imagining that their presentation could or should have that sort of impact. What action would I like my audience to take? Start doing, stop doing, do more of or do less of? For many of my presentations and/or keynote addresses, this desired action could be quite simple — i.e., I want my audience to start telling stories in their workplace situations.

WHAT DO THEY NEED TO THINK AND FEEL IN ORDER TO DO IT — Once I identify a desired action of my audience, I consider what I think they need to think and/or feel in order to take that action. These may be new thoughts and feelings I want to instil in them. Or they could be thoughts and feelings I want them to stop having because they are holding my audience back from doing what I want them to do. As an example, I want my audiences to think that storytelling can be a powerful and persuasive way of communicating. But I also want them to stop feeling afraid about using it at work or worried it would be too risky in a business situation.

WHAT MESSAGE DO I NEED THEM TO HEAR — All good presentations have a single theme, a core message that the presenter comes back to again and again. This may seem repetitive to the presenter, but an audience can only remember so much from a presentation, even a great one. So, the presenter has to consider what they want that message to be. Then they weave that message throughout their presentation from beginning to end. For instance, my core message is often that storytelling works, but only if you understand how it works and are willing to put some work into it.

DO I HAVE STORIES CONNECTED TO THAT MESSAGE — And lastly, I consider whether or not I can share some stories to bring my core message to life, demonstrate it in action, or remove any barriers that might be getting in the way of my audience embracing it. Storytelling in a business presentation is there to connect your audience to your message and your content. So, you must have that core message and content developed before you wrap storytelling around it.

I know a lot of people who, when they have to make a business presentation or keynote address, sit down and just start at the very beginning of it, without thinking about the impact they want that presentation to have. An engineer wouldn’t work this way. They think before they design, considering first about what they need this “thing” to do and how it has to function.

Do the same the next time you develop a presentation. You’ll be amazed not only how much more easily things fall into place, but how many more light bulbs go off in the audience in front of you.

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