Sparking understanding

Persuasive presenting

Audiences might be skeptical but they don’t want you to fail. They are looking for compelling, expert information. Recognize that your expertise is an asset and audiences are looking for that.

An effective presentation is always structured. The clearer the structure, the more effective the presentation; don’t overthink it. Beginning/middle/end is a solid structure that audiences are comfortable with and respond to. The beginning (short) is who you are, why you are there and why you are qualified to speak. The middle (most of your presentation) is the problem you are addressing and the solution you are proposing or the results you have found. The end (short) is a brief re-statement of the problem, your proposed solution or results and a call for action, i.e. the next steps you recommend.

Except in the most formal circumstances, reading word for word from a prepared script is deadly. Preparing notes is a good idea, but not a script; no complete sentences. Rather, create a list of “chapter headings.” For each particular point you will be speaking about, a two or three word topic heading and two or three bullet points below that are sufficient for each point. During the presentation, as you detail your “chapter headings” your expertise will come through more naturally and your audience will respond.

The same goes for text-heavy slides. Within 10 seconds most people in the audience have already read everything on the slide as the speaker drones on. Keep them minimalistic and favor images over text. Occasionally turning powerpoint off altogether changes the dynamic positively and is an unexpected joy for audiences. Draw the attention away from the slides to you.

When taking questions, listen carefully before answering. Take notes if it helps. Don’t be tempted to answer questions outside your area of expertise. But don’t ignore or evade questions, either. It’s always OK to say: “I don’t know.” Even better is: “I don’t know but I will find out and get back to you right away.” Audiences respond positively when you are both honest and responsive.

When challenged, it can be hard to keep your composure. Keep cool: you always have options. Remember, the audience does not want you to fail. It’s OK to pause for a moment. It’s OK to ask the person to repeat the question while you gather your thoughts. And It’s OK to glance down at your pre-prepared bullet points and chapter headings to get you back on track.

To return to your key message points, use phrases like “That’s a very good question, but here’s the real problem…”, “That is valid, but I think it would be more accurate to say…”, “What I have said comes down to this…”, “Let me emphasize again…”, “While that is important, it’s also important to remember…”, “I agree with what you are saying, but…” – it can help.


You are the expert, and your audience expects you to be.