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How to plan a successful presentation

The secret to planning a successful presentation lies in asking yourself three key questions. These questions will ensure your presentation is clear, persuasive and focused on the audience.

I call this the what-why-how approach.

What do you want the audience to do?

The goal of any presentation is action. When planning, you need to be clear on what action you want the audience to take. And by the end of the presentation, the audience needs to know this too.

If yours is sales presentation, do you want the audience to sign a contract there and then? Or do you want them to commit to a follow-up meeting?

If you are giving a project update, do you want the audience to invest more? Or do you want to prevent them from making budget cuts?

A good strategy is to write the answer to this question in a single sentence. Below is an example from a presentation selling virtual communications training:

I want the audience to schedule an appointment with me to discuss buying my virtual communication skills workshop.

Once you have the desired action clear in your mind, you need to answer the second question.

Why should they do it?

If the audience does not have a good reason to take this action, they won’t. They need to know what’s in it for them. Is it a problem you’re solving or a benefit you’re giving them?

Remember, they’re not interested in how this will benefit you. This presentation is all about them.

And don’t act like Agatha Christie, leaving this key information till the end as a surprise. Tell them at the start, tell them in the middle and tell them at the end. Drive the message home. You want it ringing in their ears like a catchy pop song.

Again, write your answer to this question in a single sentence. Let’s return to our sales example:

My workshop will help the audience’s employees deal with difficult customers, improving customer relationships and retention, thereby boosting revenue.

Now comes the third question to ask yourself.

How are you going to convince them to do it?

To answer this question, you need to understand the audience’s profile and needs. How do they like to communicate? Do they focus on facts or emotions, actions or people? What motivates them? What problems do they face?

Knowing the answers to these questions will help you convince them. But it will take research. Talk with people they work with, look them up on LinkedIn. What do they post about? Who do they follow?

And if you have a large audience with different preferences, focus on the key decision maker. Tailor the presentation to them.

Consider which presentation techniques to use. Would telling a story about how you helped a customer just like them convince them? Would compelling data visualized effectively convince them more?

Here is what this might look like in the sales presentation example.

I will tell a story about how attending these virtual workshops helped a previous client decrease staff absenteeism by 8% and increase customer retention by 10% over the year.

So, there you have it: the what-why-how approach to presentation preparation. Try it next time you give a presentation.

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