Getting your message across

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This article appeared in the 15 September, 2008 issue of CRN magazine.

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Logical flow

Why is it we can watch a movie for hours, yet we start twitching after minutes in a presentation? The difference is that one tells an engaging and flowing story, whereas the other is often a series of disjointed ideas or concepts. And when these ideas don’t flow in a continuous manner the momentum is broken, and our brain drifts off.

Making sure that each point on your agenda flows naturally into the next will help your listeners feel like they’re on a journey. Connecting each point to the next will also help them see the bigger picture. So, focus on making smooth transitions from one section to the next and make sure that each section ties into the One Theme.

If you’re using PowerPoint to present your company or solution this is particularly important.

It’s how you transition from one slide to the next that makes your presentation flow as if you were telling a story, rather than simply talking to a slide.

PowerPoint can be a very powerful tool to explain complex or detailed information. But don’t feel that you have to use it for everything you say.

A very effective technique is to start talking about the next slide before you advance to it. Tap the “B” key during your presentation to black out your screen – you will have your audience’s undivided attention, and create a far greater impact.

Conversational language

It always amazes me that people who are engaging, articulate and entertaining suddenly adopt an entirely different personality when they’re presenting. The eyes glaze over, the voice becomes monotone, and their speech pattern becomes disjointed. They stand up in
front of a group, and go into “Presentation Mode”.

Don’t think that every time you stand up to say something you are making a speech. Just because you are presenting to a group don’t feel you have to talk to “the group”. If instead, you think of them as many individuals, and you are talking to each one of them individually (albeit for only five to 10 seconds at a time) you will find it much easier to connect with your audience, and speak more in your natural style. And that is when we are at our best ... when we are ourselves, speaking in a natural conversational style.

Set the context

Too often, sales presentations ramble on with no clear objective. The result is that your listener is sometimes unsure why they should pay attention, or discovers halfway through the presentation that it is not relevant for them.

You can avoid this by making sure your audience knows the purpose of your presentation, and also what will not be covered (eg. Say up front that “this is not a technical presentation”).

Strong finish

So many great presentations have been ruined by a poor finish. The speaker finishes with words to the effect of “well, that’s it”, receives his applause, and walks off. But these are your last words before you hand over to them to ask questions! Surely you want to leave your listener with something memorable.

Your finish should be a summary of your presentation. You don’t want to introduce any new concepts at this stage – this is simply a time to highlight the key points that have been discussed and restate your key theme.

It’s also important at this point to have a call to action of some sort. What’s the next step you want your listener to do? If you are clear with your One Theme that we described earlier, then this will be obvious. In fact, if the first part of your summation is a wrap up of the key points of your presentation, then your closing remarks should tie back to
the outcomes you described in your opening remarks. The action item is the first step to moving in that direction.

Summary

Remember that the purpose of your presentation is to impact your listener in some way. It may be to change the way they think, or feel, or behave regarding your product, service, company, or something less tangible. Make sure you know what your One Theme is. Begin with a compelling opening that articulates exactly what you will deliver, then use a logical flow to take you to a strong finish. Make sure you use good examples along the way that support that theme.

In any case, you’ve delivered your message, summarised the key points, and restated your key theme. Now help them move forward and ask them to do what you want them to do.

After all, if your message is a valuable one, they will want to take the next step.
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