Talking is easy, but presenting? Not so much. Regardless of whether it’s a business presentation, an internal discussion or a meeting with a potential client, we all face the same challenge – Persuading the listener to achieve the desired outcome.
Here’s a scenario, you’re trying to sell your company’s services to a prospect that has shown interest. You feel you’ve hit all the right notes in your presentation, but they still are not biting. What’s going on exactly?
Try thinking of presentations as a journey, where you need to bring the audience to the goal. Of course, there will be obstacles getting in their way, like gaps that prevent them from crossing over, and it’s your job to bridge those gaps.
In most presentations, these gaps can be sorted into three categories – Knowledge (how they think), Feelings (how they feel), and Capabilities (how they do). When you recognize the gaps, you can then identify relevant and impactful solutions that will help them ‘get over the hurdle’ to improve your chances of obtaining their approval.
As a presenter, you probably have an in-depth knowledge of your topic. In a business context, you’ll have information such as the history of the company, the products it’s selling, and the benefits. However, when it comes to sharing with an audience, not all that data is necessary.
A common misconception many presenters have is that the more data you put on your slides, the better it will be. After all, having more data should make you sound more credible, right? Not exactly. In fact, unnecessary data may serve as a distraction from your core message(s) instead. With so much to process, your audience will have a tougher time focusing on the key points of your presentation, which are overshadowed by non-essential information.
By identifying the gaps in the audience’s knowledge, you can then prioritize the content to put in your presentation, and remove those that are irrelevant or unnecessary. This is a fundamental part of your presentation that sets the stage for the rest of the ‘gap-fillers’. You need your audience to believe that your idea is necessary and that they need it.
What you can do: Ask yourself three important questions.
- What is the audience’s current perception / thinking / knowledge that I want to change?
- What should they be thinking after my presentation?
- What information should I give to help them move from A to B?
Take an internal business presentation for example. You’re looking to convince your management to upgrade the office computers.
What could they be thinking right now? You can take a guess, that they believe an upgrade would be unnecessary or too costly.
What would you like them to think after your presentation? You’d want them to leave feeling like the upgrade would be worth the cost, and it is a necessity for the team’s productivity.
Now that you’ve answered both questions, you can decide on the information that is relevant, such as the cost breakdown, the benefits of upgrading, and other details that are essential in persuading your audience.
Facts and data help your audience understand what you’re sharing, but it is not sufficient. More often than not, the most successful business presentations rely on appealing to the audience’s emotions by making it relatable to them.
An example would be the winner of the World Championship of Public Speaking, Darren Tay (who coincidentally is also from Singapore). In his speech, he uses a pair of briefs to illustrate the shame caused by childhood bullying, before throwing them aside to emphasise that we do not need to live with it.
To bridge the emotional gap, you need to create an image as a motif as well as a story for your audience. Clarity is essential here, and they’re more likely to remember what you say if you are able to stimulate their imagination. Scientists agree that using imagery and visuals help increase recall.
These are techniques not meant just to entertain, but to build common ground and trust. Your audience or prospect might be in a situation where he/she is aware that they need what you have, but they might not want to work with you.
What you can do: A common way to reach out to your audience is to share something personal, such as anecdotes and analogies. Dozens of articles have been written on how to create powerful beginnings and endings, with devices to evoke an emotional response being one of the frequently suggested ways.
For example, if you were sharing about a program, talk about how it can be so frustrating dealing with manual work, and how big a relief it would be if your audience had the software to deal with it. You can even use an analogy, calling it ‘the Panadol to their headache’ (it’s cheesy, but you get the idea).
So, you pulled out all the stops during the presentation. You chose the right information, you had a visually impactful presentation, and you created a compelling story to appeal to your audience’s emotions. What’s next?
There are times where the audience has bought into your idea, but they’re not able to make it work. Let this sink in… They need it, they want it but they are physically unable to take action. In most scenarios, you may encounter either or both of these problems:
- Your audience is not the main decision maker.
- Your audience does not have the resources to do it.
To ensure that your presentation is a success, you need to figure out the problems that they’re facing, and offer solutions to counter their objections.
What you can do: Increase the ease of execution for your audience by reducing or removing the barriers.
If your audience is not the one in-charge, ask for a follow up with the decision maker. Even if you do not get a face-to-face meeting, a phone call or email is better than nothing. If you can’t contact them, provide a tool kit (such as a credentials deck, a detailed document, etc) for your audience to pitch on your behalf.
When your audience lacks the resources to accomplish the desired outcome, you can provide alternatives to solve the problem. If your business presentation is about a product, and they have a low budget, can you offer alternatives? Are you able to scale back by reducing the price and features proportionally?
Make your audience’s experience a smoother one by helping them eliminate the barriers they face in moving towards your common goal. This includes outlining the path of action that they’ll have to take.
There’s no easy way out when it comes to a business presentation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do well at it. The first step to success is always to understand your audience, and it starts by identifying what your audience needs to reach the same goal as you, be it knowledge, envisioning the possibilities, or easy execution of ideas.