There’s a widespread view that you only need to persuade your audience when you’re making sales presentations.
But the fact is that almost all presentations contain an element of persuasion – usually quite a large element.
In the business world, if you’re giving a presentation you’re generally trying to suggest a course of action, taking a stand on an issue or promoting a view. The only presentations not doing this are those that are providing objective information to inform their audience. But these, at least in commercial circles, are increasingly rare.
Most often, your audience will have the facts at their fingertips anyway. It’s what you want to do with those facts that counts. In other words, it’s about persuading them to follow your suggestions. It’s about influencing them.
Understanding this point immediately puts you out in front. Most presentations cover far too much information (again, much of it already known) and spend far too little time persuading. That’s what you should focus on.
So how do you go about that? There are many useful ideas, but here are five of the most important.
1. Know your audience
This is vital; without it, your chances of persuading or influencing them are remote. What things are important to them, what are they focused on, what is making their life miserable – and how could you solve this problem for them?
2. Ask the right question
This rises naturally out of the first point: if you know your audience, you’ll know what drives them. Ideally, your presentation will establish the question up front – and you can spend the rest of the time answering that question in a way that excites, intrigues and grips the audience.
3. Grab the attention
An arresting opening banishes wandering minds and focuses your audience on what you want to say to them. As a reader and writer of fiction, I cherish great openings to novels. One of my favourites is the first line of “Brighton Rock” by Graham Greene: “Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.” Most people would want to continue reading after that line! A similarly powerful start to your presentation will have your audience sitting up – and more open to being persuaded.
4. Establish rapport
Show the audience that you know what concerns them, that you empathise with them, and that you can help. Humour, stories, anecdotes and an injection of your own personality can also build bridges between you and your audience.
5. Don’t waste the ending
So many presentations end with a simple summary, following the ancient formula of “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you’ve told them.” Far from being a recipe for success, this is a great way to send your audience to sleep. Attention spans are shorter than ever, so don’t summarise at the end – give your audience something practical to do with the information you’ve given them.
Do all these things, and your presentation is not only more likely to bring about the results you want, it will also be more gripping, dynamic and enjoyable for your audience. Not bad for five little points!
By David Vickery