“How do I start?”
“How should I structure it?”
“How can I end it?”
Every time I work with a client to prepare a presentation, I hear these questions. And I often hear comments like, “I really want to impress them,” “I want to do a good job,” and the ever-popular, “I don’t want to look like a dummy.”
The questions I encourage them to ask instead are the following:
“Who is the audience?”
“What does this group need to hear?”
“How will this presentation help them?”
“Why should they care?”
“What should they do or think or feel as a result of this presentation?”
Do you notice anything different in these sets of questions? One set is inwardly focused and the other focuses outward. If you want to connect with your audience and make an impact, you have to start by assessing their needs, listening to them, and asking questions. Once you understand what they need and why, your presentation material starts to fall into place. You have a purpose.
So how do you realize that purpose? You have to deliver your material with intention.
Intention helps you connect to your material in a deep way which then allows you to connect to your audience. It is your plan. Your goal. It is what you DO to the audience.
How do you determine your intention?
This is the checklist I use with my clients as we develop presentations:
(The great thing about this checklist is that you can apply it to any situation to help you be more focused and more effective – in a one-on-one meeting, virtual meeting, face-to-face meeting, phone calls, and on and on.)
You start with the audience. Who are they? Be specific. What is your relationship with them? What is their current level of understanding? How do they respond to the type of material you are presenting? Is there a range of experience and familiarity with the material? Are they your superiors or are they peers?
Why should they care? Why is this presentation important for them to hear? How will your presentation make a difference in their situation? (If it isn’t important and won’t make a difference, maybe you should send the information in an email instead!)
How can you deliver your message in such a way that this specific audience will hear it? This will impact everything from physicality to vocal quality.
Here’s where we get down to determining intention. The answers to the previous questions lead us to the what. Your intention simply answers the question, “What are you doing to the audience?” You know what you want them to do, think, or feel. Now, what can you do with your delivery to turn the intention into action?
I believe that presenters are most effective when they can connect to the audience and to the material they are presenting. Intention leads to connection.
It is best to write out your intention. Yes! Write it down so you can let it guide you as you prepare. What should your intention statement include? It should be active. Something you can really sink your teeth into.
Which is stronger?
“I want to inform them about our growth last quarter and our plans for how to continue that growth next quarter.”
“I’m just updating them on the current status of the project.”
“I want to celebrate their success and inspire them to double their sales in the next quarter.”
“I want to alert them to the alarming discoveries we have made during the process.”
“To inform,” “to educate,” “to update,” “to explain.” No doubt these are wrapped up in your intention – but they are not active. They lead to a flat delivery. That is because it is hard for you as a presenter to really engage and connect to those words. They don’t charge you and energize you. Finding something more active to focus on allows you to connect with the material more deeply, thus allowing you to connect to the audience. And that is the overarching goal: connection. Your presentation will be most effective if you can connect to your audience. Make them feel something. Engage them.
Once you have answered these questions and determined your intention, the answers to “how do I start,” “what is the structure,” how do I end” typically fall into place organically because the answers are now in service of your goal.
Try this in your next presentation. Start with something that is low stakes. Answer the questions above (who, why, how, and what) and let those answers guide you to a clear intention. Here are some examples:
I need to inspire them to reach higher.
I need to warn them about the danger of inaction.
I need to convince them this is the right thing to do.
I need to open their eyes to what is possible.
I need to pull back the curtain so all can see the corruption.
I need them to pay attention.
Notice in these examples, I substituted “need” for “want.” When you dig deep, you will often find that “needing” to convey your message brings up stronger emotion and connection. You may experiment with either of these to see what works best for the situation. As we all know from the multitude of books and research on the topic, language matters. And the language of self-talk has incredible power over the effectiveness of your communication.
The beauty of this process is that you can apply it to any situation in which you are communicating a message to another person. If you are selling them a car, you can size up who the customer is, you can determine why one car would be better for them than another, you can gauge how best to deliver your message (firm or passive, for example), and you can work with a goal that is greater than just “to get them to buy a car.” Yes, of course, we do want them to buy the car, but what if we choose a bigger goal? Something more meaningful. “I want to make her feel like a VIP.” “I want him to tell everyone he knows about the great service here.” “I want them to become customers for life.”
By taking time to identify your intention, you lay the groundwork for profound connection and success. And like anything else, the more you do it, the easier it gets. You may even find that you use the same intention for multiple presentations. That is great unless it starts to lose its charge for you.
Be mindful. Be deliberate. Strive for connection. It will set you apart from the pack.
I’d love to carry this topic over into a discussion. Please engage with us either by email, FaceBook, LinkedIn, or on whatever platform you have found us.