Writing Effective Presentations
If you want to get something done in business, whether it is to sell something, or otherwise get your way, you will probably find yourself in a personal meeting. Here you will be expected to state your case in a way that helps you, but also to respect the time and intelligent of the decision makers who are listening to you.
For this reason, one of the most important writing skills that you can develop is the ability to create an effective presentation. These days many presentations are developed in MicroSoft Powerpoint, which means that software helps you present and design your presentation. While graphics are important, the key skills in creating an effective presentation are planning and writing. PowerPoint just makes it faster and easier to give your presentation.
Presentation Writing is a special skill
Presentation writing is very different from writing an ad, or a brochure or a newsletter. With a presentation you are not going to write something, have it designed and printed and send it out to thousands of prospects. Instead you are using your presentation to help you make a direct address to a room filled with people you have to convince. You may hand out a presentation “deck” to support your talk, or you may use technology to have your computer project your presentation on a large screen. But your job is to deliver a powerful message to a small audience. This is where you need to start working
Know Your Audience
If you have scheduled a presentation you will know who will be attending. Think about who they are and what issues are important to them. If you are giving a technical presentation to sell advanced hardware or software, think about you’re your product will make life easier for your audience. On the other hand, if you are talking to top management about the same product, you may want to talk about how your product can save them time and money. Focus on the level of the audience so you can use appropriate words to reach them. For a technical audience you can confidently use technical words, for a general or management audience you may want to define terms.
Know Exactly What You Want To Say
A good presentation should be no longer than 15 or 20 minutes. Remember a presentation is not a lecture or a sermon. Your purpose is to persuade so it is important that keep interest high throughout. The best way to do this is start with a strong point of view and stay on target from start to finish. Suggestion: start your preparation by writing the objective in as few words as possible. Then focus on what you wrote and begin putting together your presentation so that every point you make moves you toward your objective. Example: If “We must open a new location in Peoria” is your objective, your presentation will show the potential of the Peoria market, the viability of your product mix for the Peoria market, the progress of your competition in Peoria and the potential profits you can expect by doing business in Peoria.
Open with a Strong Headline that Points the Way
Remember, the purpose of your presentation is to persuade. Start strongly by telling the audience what they are doing there. Example: Attract Twice as Many Sales Leads, Cut your Phone Bill in Half, You can’t afford not to archive your company’s email? Once you’ve used your theme headline, make everything that you present support your point.
Have a Written Agenda
As a presenter, the presentation is in your control. Keep the audience with you by giving them an agenda. Show exactly how you will be spending their time. Your audience will appreciate this effort and organizing your time in this way will give your presentation focus and power. A rule of thumb about estimating your time: always err on the short side. If you say you are going to take 8 minutes to explain something and it only takes 5 nobody will be cross with you. But if you promise 8 and take 15 your audience is going be restless and unhappy.
Put your audience first
Presenters, especially in sales situations often want to make sure to emphasize their credentials. This is not a good idea because while you are talking about how qualified you are, the audience is thinking about their problems and their company. By all means present your qualifications but talk about your audience. Make a conscious effort to mention the name of their company more than the name of your own.
Always try to do something extra to make your point. The notion that “a picture is worth a thousand words” is a good one when it comes to presentations. It is much easier to visualize numerical data when you can see it in the form of a chart. You don’t have to overload your presentations with graphics but they are very effective and current software makes chart making a snap. It is also helpful to involve your audience in your presentation. Ask questions or invite speculation about a point you want to make before you reveal them. If possible, try to include something in your presentation that is completely new and unexpected: a recent article in a major publication that addresses the theme of your presentation, a tape-recorded response by a customer, vendor or shareholder.
Be Ready to Answer Questions
If your argument has a weak point, you don’t have to include it in your presentation. But you do need to prepare an answer if the question comes up in the question and answer session after your presentation. If an embarrassing question comes up during your presentation, ask that it be held until the Q&A.
Have a Strong Finish
Do not allow your presentation to drift away or die from lack of energy. Close with a summary and a strong restatement of your main point. If you have developed a particularly apt example or a dramatic visual or even a small gift that symbolizes your main point, use it as your ending. The movie actor James Cagney began his career as a dancer in live performances. He said that when he was doing this kind of entertaining he would always try to give the audience something at the end “to remember me by.” Try to do the same in your presentations.