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Annie Hayes



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How to: Give presentations that move people to action


Tips on how to craft the perfect delivery, engage the audience and structure the right content.

You have spent some time building your important presentation to the point of perfection. Your structure and flow look really good and the technical content is accurate and to the point. Your messages are clear and important. You have allowed for questions at key points in your presentation and your visual aids are appealing and concise.

One would think that you would give an excellent presentation and maybe you do on the day. You are convinced that the strength of your case and the persuasiveness of your messages will cause people to act on what you have to say but you find later that they don’t. Why?

I’ve seen many presentations like this, actually very good presentations on the face of it. I’ve enjoyed them and come away with a positive impression of the presenter. Trouble is, a few days later I don’t remember much of what was said. Why?

Conversely or perhaps perversely, I’ve also watched presentations where the presenter seemed badly prepared, uncertain, sometimes even fumbling. I’ve had to work hard to understand what the presenter is really saying and what key points they are trying to make. I sometimes leave feeling uncomfortable, even frustrated and yet some days later the message appears as if by some miraculous process and it changes the way I think and act. Why?

A colleague of mine told me of an occasion when he was presenting his well thought through, highly relevant and beautifully drafted proposals to a senior management team. They listened and engaged in a polite and enthusiastic dialogue but some way into the presentation my colleague realised that whist he was engaging them at an intellectual level he was not engaging them emotionally.

Although they were enjoying the structure and content of the presentation, it just wasn’t touching their hearts. He saved the day by asking a simple question that he drew from something that his audience mentioned earlier in his presentation.

Asking the simple question transformed the dialogue and consequently the outcome, the eventual effect of the presentation on those present and their subsequent actions.

For my part I recall a similar situation in which I also brought a fantastic presentation to an important meeting with a group of directors. I was in full flow when as had been the case with my colleague, I decided to dump the presentation because I just wasn’t getting through and said: “Tell me about what’s important to you and your business right now”. This simple request produced a deep and rich dialogue, full of empathy and insight, full of understanding and purpose.

Many presentations are only one half of what should be a two-way interaction. Facts without understanding are at best unmemorable, at worst misleading. Opinions, no matter how well or fervently expressed have little impact without challenge and at least some debate to secure understanding and to generate a sense of ownership and enthusiasm.

So when you next prepare an important presentation you should of course:

  • 1. Get your technical or other facts right.

  • 2. Make your structure and flow elegant.

  • 3. Be clear about your aims and intended outcomes.

  • 4. Have clear and concise visual aids.

  • 5. Leave space for questions and answers.


  • 6. Leave space for you to ask questions of your audience and to create a dialogue based on their world and their needs relative to your subject area. This will allow you to shape how you present your material and anchor your messages to their needs.

You may think that this will cause you to overrun your time. Well it won’t if:

  • 1. You leave some space for this process in your presentation.

  • 2. You clearly describe this process to your audience.

  • 3. You manage the process as it unfolds.

You will then have no difficulty and your impact as measured in terms of action after the event will soar.

Oh and you may be wondering how a fumbling presenter like those I described earlier could touch me and cause me and others to act; well firstly their imperfections cause a lack of structure which at a intellectual level annoyed me but at an emotional level drew me in to empathise with the presenter.

Secondly it caused a rich if unstructured dialogue as the audience sought to draw meaning from the (apparently?) disorganised facts and opinions being presented. It was later that month that my brain sorted it all out and I received the insights that caused me to take action.

Roy Gaynor, is Managing Director of management consultants’ training and support network, Navisys Academy.

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Annie Hayes


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