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Create a Dynamite Presentation in 6 Easy Steps

This post describes a foolproof and easy way to craft a presentation that causes an audience to ACTUALLY AND TRULY MAKE A DECISION.

I'm not talking about those stupid bullet point lectures that put people to sleep.

I'm talking the real deal here. The kind of show-stopper presentation that makes things happen. Like closing a big sale.

Interested? If so, let's get started...

CLICK for the first step »
READERS: I spend an entire chapter on the subject of sales presentation in my new book How to Say It: Business to Business Selling now available for sale here:

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Note: Except where otherwise noted, this post is loosely based on an interview with G. Richard Shell and Mario Moussa, authors of "The Art of Woo."

Illustrations by Afiat Sukmaraga

STEP #1: Decide on the Impact
When most people start out to create a presentation, they start with the question: "what do I want to say to these people?"

That's the exact wrong question to ask because it's all about you and not about the audience.

The correct question to ask is: "what decision does these people really need to make?"

The greatest enemy facing EVERY business -- bar none -- is inertia. People avoid making key decisions out of fear, stupidity, lethargy, tradition, etc.

So start from the point of wanting to be of service, and that means creating an presentation that persuades your audience to make a decision.

If you don't know what decision you want the audience to make, don't bother giving a presentation, because you're just wasting everyone's time.

Now, before going any further. Ask yourself, in all honesty:

  • Do I know EXACTLY what decision I want my audience to make?
If you DON'T then please don't bother to craft a presentation, because you'll just be wasting everyone's time.

However, if you DO know what impact you want to have -- i.e. what decision you want your audience to make -- read on...

CLICK for the second step »

STEP #2: Understand How an Audience Decides
A decision is always the result of change in the decision-maker's emotional state.

Prior to making the decision, the audience does not feel that a decision is necessary. Not yet. Then something happens, in the audience's emotional state, that brings the matter to a head. The audience now feels that a decision MUST be made.

At that point the audience (i.e. the decision-makers in the audience) decides.

A persuasive presentation therefore changes the emotional state of the audience so that they believe and feel that a decision must be made... right now.
In business there are six emotional keys that unlock that all-important decision-making process. They are:

  • Key #1: Greed. "If we make a decision now, we'll get a big reward."
  • Key #2: Fear. "If we don't make a decision now, we're basically toast."
  • Key #3: Altruism. "If we make a decision now, we're good people."
  • Key #4: Envy. "If we don't make a decision now, the other guys will win."
  • Key #5: Pride. "If we make a decision now, they'll know we're smart."
  • Key #6: Shame: "If we don't make a decision now, they'll know we're dumb."
Truly persuasive presentations contain all six of those emotional keys, because it is only under the pressure of these emotion that any decision will be made.

The underlying drivers behind these emotions are, of course, pain and pleasure. Truly persuasive presentations play upon the six key emotions to:

  • RAISE the likelihood of pain and LOWER the likelihood of pleasure if a decision IS NOT made.
  • RAISE the likelihood of pleasure and LOWER the likelihood of pain if a decision IS made.
When these expectations are set, a decision is INEVITABLE.
I realize that this all seems a bit theoretical. But if you don't understand this basic stuff, the rest of this post won't make sense. So bear with me because we're about to get to the meaty parts...

CLICK for the third step »

STEP #3: Research the Audience
While the six emotional keys (and the pain and pleasure behind them) completely drive the decision-making behavior, that activity always takes place within the context of a belief system.

For example, if a company sees IBM as their main competition, the "fear" and "envy" segments are best stated in terms of competing with IBM. Similarly, if a firm's management consists of evangelical Christians, altruistic appeals to "saving the environment" will likely fall flat.

Therefore, if you are going to create the emotions that drive decision-making, you need to know not just the audience's current emotional state but also the beliefs that they're using to evaluate the emotional weight of anything that you might present to them.

And that means research. The more thoroughly you research your audience, the more likely you'll be to understand their current state and the better you'll marshal emotions to change that state.

It is in this context -- finally -- that information becomes important. Even though your presentation is intended to change emotions, because this is the business world, some of that emotional change will result from the expression of new information and the reframing of old information.

However, please remember that it is not the information that is important, but the emotional effect that your use of the information will have upon the audience. This is an important distinction.

For example, suppose you're trying to sell an inventory control system to a high tech firm. You learn, as the result of your research, that 1) they've been dinged by investors for having high inventories, and 2) their main competitors have just implemented a "just-in-time" inventory system.

That's just information. What's important is the emotional effect that those two facts will have when juxtaposed with one another -- based upon the prospect's belief system.

Now, let's suppose that your research also reveals that your prospect's CIO was just replaced and the new CIO was promoted from the ranks.

That's more information, but what's important is that the new CIO is may be unsure and possibly risk averse. And that provides clues into how you must craft the emotional content of your presentation, based upon the belief system (i.e. "If I screw up; I'll lose this job") of that new CIO.

Needless to say, the specifics will vary. And that's why you've got to follow the next step...

CLICK for the fourth step »

STEP #4: Craft The Story
A story is a sequence of events that has emotional consequences.

The normal, non-autistic, human brain organizes EVERYTHING into stories, because that's how we understand the meaning and context of everything around us.

Because of this, a persuasive presentation ALWAYS tells a story.

It is this story that harnesses the power of the six key emotions, thereby changing the emotional state of the audience, so that a decision MUST be made.

Here are the rules:

  1. The story starts with an "heart-stopper." Every movie, TV show, or novel starts with something that captures your attention (i.e. captures your emotions) and holds your interest while you "get into" the story. Without a "heart stopper", the audience's mind will wander. Trust me.
  2. The story is about the audience... not about you. The story connects emotions to the audience's current situation so that that a decision becomes inevitable. You (or your firm) can play a "best supporting actor" role, but the main role is always the audience and what happens (or might happen) to them.
  3. The story ends with a "risk-remover", then a "close." The risk-remover eliminates any remaining reluctance to make a decision. The "close" pushes the audience over the edge and essentially force them to make the decision, right now.
With that in mind, here's the basic structure for a presentation asking a company to invest in an inventory control system:
  • You are losing $100 million a year. (The heart-stopper)
  • A brief history of your inventory problems.
  • Why it's worse now and likely to get even worse.
  • What will happen if the situation continues unabated.
  • How your big competitor dealt with the problem.
  • Here's a solution that's even better than that.
  • How it will look when it's installed.
  • Our solution will have a 3 month ROI. (The risk-remover.)
  • If you're ready, let's set up an installation. (The close.)
Note that this story:
  • Maximizes the pain of not making a decision.
  • Maximizes the pleasure of making a decision.
  • Appeals to most of the six key emotions.
  • Is mostly about the customer rather than your offering.
Needless to say, there's got to be plenty of data and reality behind the various points in the story. And, for this to work in a sales situation, you'd have to meet one-on-one with many of the participants to get your ducks in a row, as they say.

But the structure is all about creating emotion and persuading the audience to make a decision, right now.

Once you've got your story in mind, it's time to work on the actual mechanics of the presentation...

CLICK for the fifth step »
Note: These observations about the importance of story are largely based on a conversation Dean Schantz, a senior Consultant with Corporate Visions Inc.

STEP #5: Compose Your Slides
Now that you've done your research and know the story you're going to tell, it's finally time to start making your slides. Here are the nine key rules:
  • Rule #1: Prepare anew for each audience. Human beings share common desires and dreams, but beneath the commonalities are differences specific to individual situations. Every industry has unique needs, and every company in every industry has unique needs, and every group of customers in every company has unique needs. For your presentation to become a relationship-building event and move the sales process forward, it must address what's important to the individual customer and must provide that information at the appropriate level of detail.
  • Rule #2: Base your slides on real research. Make sure your presentation uses terminology that will be meaningful to that customer. Use proof points and illustrations that resonate with that customer's business experience. If you're presenting to a group with varied levels of expertise, aim for the middle ground when you target the level of detail. Don't aim for the lowest common denominator. There's no presentation blunder bigger than boring the bulk of the audience.
  • Rule #3: Don't just tell... show and tell. If you present information both with words and with pictures, you'll have twice the impact, because the information will be stored in twice as many places. Combine both text and graphics in your slides when you want to make an important point. The combination will help your audience remember what you're trying to communicate and help them fit it into the bigger picture of their working environment.
  • Rule #4: Mix it up. If every slide looks the same, you risk creating a flood of images for the customer to decipher. Vary your slides so that some contain just words, some contain just pictures, and save the punchy "words and picture" combo for your most important points. Hint: a video clip in the midst of a presentation creates a sudden burst of movement. This accesses yet another areas of the human brain, making your presentation (literally) more memorable.
  • Rule #5: Plan how to direct the audience's attention. To make sure that the audience is following your arguments, make important elements larger and brighter (or louder). Provide an outline structure to help them understand where they are in the overall message. If you need your customers to understand something complex - like a multi-tiered supply chain diagram -- build the slide one part at a time, showing only the part that you're discussing at each point in the presentation.
  • Rule #6: Don't overwhelm. There's a natural tendency, when giving a presentation, to provide so much information that it's abundantly clear that you know everything there is to know about the subject matter. Unfortunately, this kind of "information dump" forces the customer to sort through the data and figure out what's really important - if they don't simply tune you out. Your presentation should provide as much information as is needed to support your story.
  • Rule #7: Use a full range of communications options. Don't let the ease of making bulleted lists in PowerPoint slide lull you into thinking that bullets are always best. A personal anecdote or telling example is often much more effective for making an important point than anything that you can display on a screen. Think of your PowerPoint slides not as "the presentation" but as a visual aid to "the presentation," which consists of YOU communicating with customers.
  • Rule #8: Build in breaks. Nobody likes being force-fed. If a presentation is longer than a few minutes, you should build in "breaks" that give the audience time to digest what's been already said. A break might consist of a cartoon or a joke, providing they are relevant to the presentation. A video clip illustrating an important point can also break up the rhythm, and help aid retention.
  • Rule #9: Prepare for questions. Even though you've told the story, an active and involved Q&A period often leads naturally to next steps in the sales cycle, like additional appointments, additional contacts, and even closing the deal. To make sure that you have a productive Q&A, anticipate questions that might come up - and leave those bits out of your presentation.
Follow those rules as you put the piece together to tell your story, and you're almost there. Just one more step...

CLICK for the final step »
Note: The above rules are based upon a conversation with Stephen M. Kosslyn, author of the book "Clear and to the Point."

STEP #6: Rehearse, then Go For It
Once you've built your customized presentation, rehearse it a couple of times to make sure that you're ready to rock. Then, when you give the presentation, follow these five rules:
  • Rule #1: Don't hand out copies. If you distribute a hard copy of your slides before your presentation, the audience will read ahead and try to guess what you're going to say. This will force you to remove any accidental misinterpretations prior to communicating your real message and also weaken the emotional impact of what you're trying to say.
  • Rule #2: Keep your slides in sync. You don't want your audience reading something on the screen that's different than what your mouth is saying. To prevent drifting, make sure that each slide should contain only as much as you can read aloud or describe in about one minute. (More than that, and either you'll wander, or the customer's attention will wander).
  • Rule #3: Talk TO the audience, not AT them. A persuasive presentation should be like a conversation between friends or colleagues, not like a soapbox speech or a sermon. Relax. Breathe. Use the same tone of voice that you'd use in a one-on-one conversation. Let your eyes meet the eyes of the various members of the group. Tell your story the way you'd tell it at a dinner party.
  • Rule #4: Don't focus on your notes. If you're constantly looking down at your notes, the audience will see your eyes staring downwards - a primal image of embarrassment. Worse, the audience will follow your gaze and focus their attention on what you're focusing on. In that case, their most vivid memory of your presentation might be the back of your laptop or the back of the podium.
  • Rule #5: Direct the audience's attention. At time, your presentation will direct the customers' attention to what's displayed on the screen, like when you're discussing a graph, or following step-by-step through a logical argument. Other times, you'll want to direct their attention to what you're saying and how you're saying it. In this case, the slide might merely introduce an anecdote with a title or an appropriate, reinforcing graphic.
CLICK for a summary and more help »
Note: The above rules are based upon a conversation with Stephen M. Kosslyn, author of the book "Clear and to the Point."
  • STEP #1: Decide on the Impact
  • STEP #2: Understand How an Audience Decides
  • STEP #3: Research the Audience
  • STEP #4: Craft The Story
  • STEP #5: Compose Your Slides
  • STEP #6: Rehearse, then Go For It
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