Presentations are an inherent part of today’s workplace… business presentations, public speaking and general communication. All involve formal and informal levels and ultimately impact your career progression. So here is a 9 step process for how you can improve your persuasion skills and so become a more effective persuader.
- Understand the issues faced by your audience. It is often said that a busy person (and who isn’t busy these days?) can only deal with 5 topics at any one time. If you are going to get air time with busy people you need to make a connection from the very beginning with what is currently on their mind. So you need to link the subject matter of your presentation to one of these key items which means you need to research your audience.
- Decide what kind of presentation it is. Is your presentation a pitch for something (such as resources for a project, agreement to go ahead with something or even a pay rise), is it informing the audience or is it to build goodwill (for example at a supplier event)? Is it a formal presentation in front of many people, an informal presentation to a few or even a one-to-one conversation with someone?
- Decide your objectives. What is it you want as a result of the presentation? Do you want people to leave feeling enthused for your project? Do you want commitment to give your project money? You need to decide what you want before you design your presentation.
- Create a “hook”. This is a vital part of your presentation. You need to grab your audience’s attention from the very beginning. For example, Robert Cialdini has found that the most absorbing presentations and articles start with a mystery. The presentation then engages the audience as they unravel the mystery together.
- Create your memorable opening. This is closely linked to the hook. In their book “Made to Stick” Chip and Dan Heath tell the story of someone pitching to venture capitalists for investment in developing a new laptop computer. He started by throwing onto the table a plastic folder and declaring that this was his new laptop. Clearly it wasn’t but it started a discussion about how a laptop could be made so thin and small.
- Craft your action focused ending. Too many presentations follow the formula “tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you have told them”. This might work if your objective is to inform the audience. For every other type of presentation it is insufficient. What you want is action of some kind so finish with what you want them to do – a “takeaway” list of actions.
- Use graphics for impact. Most people respond better to images than to text. Think about all of the slide shows you have had to sit through that are crammed full of text and bullet points. Images have more impact as long as they are relevant to the topic and are unique. Avoid stock photographs that bear no relation to the point you are trying to get across.
- Pull it all together into a coherent story. Do not underestimate the power of a story. We are conditioned from a very young age to engage with and respond to stories. Don’t get “cute” but do have a story that unfolds with a well-crafted opening, middle and end.
- Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. As a golfer once told me, amateurs practice until they get it right – professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.