This Key Question Gets Audience Results

Some leaders miss one of the big points of a professional presentation.

How do I know? Because of the questions people ask:

  • Have I said too many umms and ahhs?
  • Should this PowerPoint slide have 5 bullet points, or can I have 6?
  • What do you think of this font?
  • Should I move the first topic to be second, or do you think it sounds better if it stays where it is?
  • Do I look nervous?Presenter

All of the above are legitimate asks. The problem isn’t these questions themselves…the problem is that presenters consider these questions only from their perspective. Too often, leaders are concerned with how they look, their level of nervousness, their PowerPoint slide design…and so on. Yet, they haven’t stopped to ask themselves this one, key question:

What do I want people walking out of the room doing differently?

Instead, they pick the font that is on the PowerPoint template, they organize the presentation to match the written report, and they rehearse the presentation down to the second to ensure they are perfectly on track. Unfortunately, little of that matters until you know exactly what you want the audience to do differently when they walk out of the room. Every design decision should support that answer.

Cardinal rule #1 of presenting?

It’s not about you.

If it was about you, there wouldn’t be any reason for the audience. They are there because you know something they don’t – and you can motivate them to take action. Font size, what you’re wearing, and what order you present is meaningless until you’re clear on what you want people walking out of the room doing differently.

I recently worked with someone who was refreshingly clear on this. When I asked her the key question, she responded, “I need people to walk out of the room feeling like they trust me.”

We built her presentation around that result. When we looked at visuals, we talked through whether what she was showing would build trust, take it away, or neither. We keep the trust-building content and dumped most of the rest. We decided that her audience wouldn’t care if she had umms or ahhs…so I encouraged her to stop worrying about it too. Her audience was older, so font size choices were large enough for older eyes to see.

In the end, it wasn’t the presentation she would have designed herself, but it was the presentation that her audience wanted (and needed) to hear. She aligned her choices with the results she wanted…and people walked out of the room supporting her project and keeping it funded.

Nice sounding presentations are a dime a dozen, but presentations that truly motivate are rare. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is etched into history not because it was an amazing speech (although it was) but because it awoke a still mostly ambivalent population to support civil rights. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address is remembered because the Union won the war. Steve Jobs, as great a presenter as he was, would have earned little attention if his presentations didn’t move millions of iPhones into people’s pockets.

Results matter and your odds go way up when you start planning by asking, “What do I want people walking out of the room doing differently?” and build everything around that answer.

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