Whether you're seeking funding or attempting to secure new business, at some point, you will be asked to formally present your ideas to gain support.
Before you open PowerPoint and spend hours crafting your slides, consider this: There is no direct evidence that using slides as the basis for your presentation is even remotely effective. In fact, research points in the opposite direction.
John Sweller, PhD, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia, and one of the world's leading cognitive scientists, says his research into how human beings process information, has clearly demonstrated that, when we attempt to read and listen at the same time, we actually understand and retain less than if we do either one separately.
The next time you're watching your favorite all-news station, listen to what the announcer is saying while trying to read what's scrolling across the bottom for one minute. Can you recall exactly what the announcer said? You probably can't.
Imagine what happens during the average slide-driven march through bullet points. Better yet, think of your own experience when you've been in the audience. Of the last 10 or 20 presentations you've attended, how many were a good use of your time?
Chances are, significantly less than half. For the remainder, you walked out, checked out mentally, or pulled out your smartphone to catch up on your e-mail.
The five-step solution
So how do you keep this from happening during your presentations? Ensure your audiences are engaged and interested during your next pitch using these five steps:
Step 1: Put the audience first
Successful presenters match what they say to what the audience specifically needs to understand. Choose an approach that is clear, concise and focused to the audience that you are speaking to. For example, buyers from retail hardware stores in Nova Scotia, not buyers for all types of retail stores in any location.
Successful presenters do not waste time at the start with long biographical statements or statistics of how many prototypes it took to get to the final product. They simply tell the story of how or why this idea is important to this audience. No more; no less.
Step 2: Structure the conversation
Successful presenters do not "wing it," no matter the time frame or audience size. They structure conversations with their audiences.
And this structure is always relatively simple. It focuses on one concept and revolves around two or three supporting ideas. It gets to the point immediately and asks for the sale up front: "We're here to talk to you about how our approach can solve the logistical challenges you face. By the end of our presentation, we hope you'll be confident choosing us as your new supplier."
Step 3: Minimize visual aids
While you should absolutely minimize the slides you use in your presentations, recognize that there are other tools that can and should be used: models, posters, demonstrations, binders full of franchise requests, whiteboards, and flip charts.
Use visuals only when they are essential to building understanding. When the audience is examining the visual, stop talking except to answer questions. When the visual is no longer necessary, remove it from view and continue the conversation.