Giving a Presentation? 7 Ways to Address their #1 Question

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I once went to a seminar where the presenter was sharing some leadership development ideas with the audience. At the end of the presentation, we were all left with the same question— What do we do with this information? In fact, someone asked this very question (“what is our next step…”), and the presenter’s response was “That’s a good question, I’m not sure.” BIG mistake, and it was the key reason his presentation was a fail.

The number one question any audience member has is “how does this help me?” For your presentation to have any chance of achieving greatness (or even goodness), you must answer this question.

In order for your presentation to answer to this question, you need to have a clear purpose. In a business setting, the purpose is usually either to inform or to influence. Be clear in your own mind about the purpose of your presentation, and the desired outcome. If you aren’t clear, your audience is likely to experience your presentation as mediocre (at best) and confusing.

Once you’re clear about purpose and desired outcome, try these seven approaches to ensuring that your audience leaves the room with something valuable and memorable.

1. State the problem that you are attempting to help them solve, in a way that really grabs their attention. Then the heart of your presentation will be the solution to this problem. For example, a client started her presentation to an audience of a few c-level executives with a slide with one number on it and nothing else– $3,000,000.  She began “$3 million dollars. That’s how much we are losing every year because of ….” Her next sentence was “I’m going to show you a simple way that, with a one-time $20,000 investment, we can recoup this $3 million annually.” Her audience was riveted.

2. Directly engage audience members. For example, if you are presenting to staff or colleagues, you can say something like, “ Susan, this is relevant to you because you are in the x department and we think this can help you do your job.”

3. Ask what problems they are facing at the beginning of the presentation, and then show how your presentation can solve their problem. For example, when I give talks on career change, I will sometimes ask the audience “What’s the biggest problem facing you as you contemplate a career change?” I jot down their answers, and make sure I tailor my already-prepared presentation so it addresses their issues.

4. Ask your audience beforehand what issues they need help with. Sometimes you are in a position to do this, and it can make all the difference. For example, my client, Armando was working with me to construct a presentation to his boss’s boss, someone with whom he rarely interacted. She had asked for a meeting with Armando for a “status update.” His initial thought was to present the department’s accomplishments, the projects they were working on, and so forth. But he decided to stop by her office for five minutes to be sure that’s what she wanted.

He was surprised when she told him “I’m really interested in understanding what investment alternatives we have that will improve our ability to respond to client issues.” Learning this, he was able to focus his presentation far more on the “influencing” component, suggesting a course of action; When the time came, he presented alternatives and she went with his recommendation. Shortly thereafter, he received a promotion opportunity, in which this presentation played no small part.

5. Surface potential objections. Ask the audience, “do you see how this can help you or your organization?” You can’t be afraid of what they might say in response. You may be surprised by what you hear, but now you have an opportunity to address their issues and ensure they leave with something of value.

6. Tie your recommendations to their bottom line. Don’t just say “and this will help you…” Give them hard numbers (specific, measurable results). For example, one colleague said “…and if you adopt this approach, we expect you will see a 10-30% increase in customer satisfaction, based on the results from our clients.”

7. Keep the focus on them, not you! For example, if you are presenting a product or service, don’t focus on “features and benefits” which is inherently self-centered. Instead, focus on solving their problems.

For example, a colleague came to me for help after he delivered a presentation that was unsuccessful. He was pitching his “client relationship management” (CRM) software to a prospect, a small business owner (I was invited to the meeting  because I had introduced them). Within five minutes of his presentation to the prospect, I knew he wasn’t going to get the sale, because his focus was all on the bells and whistles of his product, and not on how the software could solve this business owner’s specific CRM problems. We retooled his pitch to incorporate results from research ahead of time on a prospect’s issues; His next pitch to a different prospect, using this new tailored approach, resulted in a contract.

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