Writing a Powerful Presentation – Part 1

For many, speaking – what, in front of all those people?!! – is right up there, just above having a root canal, on the list of what we would most like not to do!

Visions of standing there, totally innocent of any coherent thought, palms sweating, vision blurring, and voice unwilling to be heard beyond the tiniest of squeaks, if we even managed to coax it into cooperation at all –  flash through our thoughts in dizzying display. At that moment, a dead faint seems a lovely outcome of the entire thing. As you stand there, your brain flashes on and off: “What was I thinking when I said I would do this?”

It doesn’t have to be this way.

There is a secret: Be well prepared. Have great material. Know that material thoroughly. Concentrate on your audience and on getting across to them the information they need. Information they need so they can do what? That’s the whole point: You must know, and concentrate on what they will know, or be able to do, as a result of what you choose to tell them. Your entire presentation will be built around this one critical element. If what you choose to tell them does not build, support, or enhance this critical point, leave it out.

So where to start?

1. To begin with, think about your own personal style. Being the “real you” is important. The way you prepare your material to support that “real you” is vital to your success. How do you like to present your information? Are you a memorizer? Do you feel more secure speaking from notes? Are you most comfortable reading a prepared script? Do you like to know your information thoroughly, and then present it, seemingly ad-libbing it, following a sequence your audience understands? PowerPoint can be helpful here, but please, please, please do not tell me your personal style is reading PowerPoint slides to your audience!

PowerPoint slides can be very helpful to keep you on track, and to keep your audience with you. In many types of business presentations, they are even expected, and members of your audience may feel uncomfortable with no screen to look at. But do not insult your readers by reading either those PowerPoint slides, or a prepared speech they will have a copy of.

You may want to consider providing handouts for your audience, using the handouts to support your point, and to keep your audience with you.

2. Once you have identified your own personal style, and how, and what materials you will prepare to support that style, ask yourself, “When I hear a presentation, what do I want to hear? What do I want the speaker to do, to be?

3. Think about what you want to say. Who is your audience? What is the one main point you want to make: What is the “takeaway” you want your listeners to remember? Why should this point matter to this audience? Once you’ve identified your main point, what are the subpoints you will use to support, or enhance it?

Stop right here. If you cannot answer point 3., you are not ready to select new, or modify existing, content.

Who might your audiences be in the business situation? You may be reporting at a staff meeting; explaining a new process; informing the board or council; leading a committee meeting; advising senior management; coaching an employee; or representing your organization to any of a number of groups, from citizen-involved open meetings, to senior citizens; to civic or business groups. In the business situation, it’s most likely we will just be doing our jobs, not traveling with two truckloads full of expensive multi-media equipment and a staff to set it all up!

You may already have a standard, prepared presentation, ready to pick up, and go out the door with, to deliver to every audience. And there is a lot to be said about using tested, familiar material. But have you ever had it receive an enthusiastic, appreciative response from one audience and totally bomb with another?

Why does this happen?

Because you need to adjust your tried-and-true, tested content to reflect, and to answer, the needs of your audience. Every time. Every audience. So use that prepared speech, and tailor it – perhaps only slightly, or to whatever level is necessary, to today’s audience. Show them how your content solves a problem for them. How it makes their life better, easier in some way. Showing them, with case studies, projections, testimonials and success stories is far more effective than just “telling” them. Put a picture in their minds, and I promise you they will be far more likely to try the solution you put forward.

Next week, we’ll talk about how to write the three parts of your presentation: the introduction that grabs them; the body beautiful that informs them; and the strong close that moves them.


Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

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