Presentations and Communication

Don’t Just Present Data, Present for Impact

If you sell a service, product or idea, your goal is to get the audience to take the desired action. You accomplish the goal is you use the right content and format for presenting it; without both, you’re likely to fail.

It starts with content. You and your team searches for the relevant facts, trend data, contextual infographics, inspirational quotes, etc.; then you have to dismiss distractive elements – what’s not essential to making the decision, because with time spans getting shorter, it takes only seconds to lose an audience’s interests. 

For instance, a financial firm was raising money for a new fund. The investor relations specialist who created it identified all the right elements. Yet, the firm was having trouble getting commitments. After noting that it was 42 pages long, one potential investor interrupted her presentation within the first 10 minutes and asked “what was her company’s competitive advantage (CA) in investing the funds for a large ROI. To answer, she searched for the statement and found it – as a footnote on page 21.  It’s unlikely others even saw it.

Kaihan Krippendorff, in OutThink the Competition, gives an example of how important using the right format is. In 2011, Apple needed to make two announcements: (1) that Steve Jobs was taking a permanent leave of absence and (2) Apple’s fourth quarter profits had increased 78% for the prior year.

The challenge is which to present first – that “Apple profits soared” or that “Steve Jobs is leaving”.  

It’s important to note that the actual facts were not key, since Jobs had been overseeing the company for almost all of the year during which the growth took place.

Using Presentation Excellence’s ADAP formula (Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentation), the solution is understanding exactly who the key audience is. In this case, the real audience was the financial market: how would investors immediately react? If they started with profits first, the story would be spun as “a profitable company is now losing its leader” and that would have burst the proud balloon; if profits came second (“Jobs is leaving (but) Apple profits soar”), the focus of the market is on how Apple will work to maintain its highly profitable performance despite Jobs’ leaving.  So the second format was chosen.

Similarly, a private equity firm recently was selling a company that manufactured high-and dresses through retail stores. With retail sales sinking, the buyers’ representatives, all men, focused on retail trends and expected a general trend to affect this product line as well; therefore, no reasonable offers were forthcoming.  At that point, the seller’s representative (a woman) then realized that the men viewed women’s dressy dresses as if they were men’s tuxedos – items that could be used multiple times, creating no urgency to be replaced. (e.g., the father of the bride can wear the same tuxedo; a mother needs a new dress! When she changed the presentation by asking the men how often their wives wear the same dress to a special event, and they all noted the answer was virtually zero, the entire presentation now became about a unique product line and not general retail buying patterns. In this second round, a buyer emerged and bought the company.

The lesson: it’s not the data per se that’s going to close your deal. What matters is the experience and expertise of someone understanding the audience’s mindset and formatting the presentation to resonate and influence that person.  Use outside experts to help you understand the greater context and realign the facts and data to drive the specific audience to make the decision you want!

Stay Focused

With everything that’s happening today, are you being so distracted that it’s reducing your effectiveness?

The implications of the Covid pandemic – working from home, taking care of family, schooling children, managing/supporting other workers – have to be distracting. Add to that increased attention to diversity and inclusion, a national election, economic survival, etc., and it’s not surprising that people are experiencing more stress and are being distracted.  

Now more than ever, you need to take steps to stay focused.   Brent Bailey, a Chair with Vistage Worldwide, shared a story about times he spent with John Wooden, one of the most successful college basketball coaches of all time. He notes that staying focused on what counts was key to his success. for instance, rather than focus on the outcome – winning – he focused his attention and that of the players on “performing to your potential”. Coach Wooden saw this as a higher standard, one that you could control and which would lead to success as a byproduct.  Brent used that approach as his business shifted its focus from being a generic product provider in many markets to a focused approach of building a consumer-brand product.  

We’re seeing this play out in the presentation arena as well. Audience’s attention has shortened (again) and people want you to get to the point more quickly. This means you need to focus in several ways:

  1. Focus the message on the key elements that people need to know. Unless it’s a core concept or essential supporting point, it’s being perceived as a distraction and drains energy/attention from the parties to whom you’re presenting. 
  2. Get to the point quickly; there’s a tendency by many speakers to make sure they set a solid foundation before getting to the key point. However, not everyone needs such an introduction and all too often the audience’s attention is lost before getting to the meat of the presentation. Worse, the speakers then find that they run out of time and speed through the crux of what mattered! (Indeed, when I facilitate new speaker meetings, I often set time limits on the introduction and encourage speakers to check the understanding-assumptions throughout the presentation. The impacts of this focus are greater audience engagement and more discussion on how to apply what they learned.)
  3. Focus your preparation time as well so you can deliver a focused presentation. Use the time-management systems we’ve talked about in prior blogs (e.g., scheduling sufficient, uninterrupted time for specific projects, and taking advantage of your biorhythms when executing) so you can thoroughly (a) think through your ideas and (b) organize and design the material so it is quickly and fully grasped by the audience. 

In sum, now more than ever, you need to stay focused to live up to your potential for each activity and in that way achieves the results you want.

The Always-Ready Presenter

What can go wrong?  When it comes to presentations, lots of things do. And no matter how well designed your (Powerpoint) presentation is, nor how well rehearsed you are, if you didn’t anticipate a likely problem, you won’t have a contingency plan in place to still deliver a perfect presentation. 

Today, all presentations being delivered during the pandemic are virtual, you should expect some form of technology challenge. As a veteran presenter and coach/mentor to thousands of other presenters, most can be anticipated.

Last week, an Investment Banker asked me to provide feedback on three investor presentations they were considering. After the session ended, with a few challenges (luckily none major), I started thinking about solutions for next time.

In the early days of “slide” presentations, it was likely that something might go wrong with a projector. Conference Centers usually had back up light bulbs that could be used if not extra projectors. Copies of presentations were printed not just to give as handouts after the presentation, but to substitute if the presentation couldn’t be projected for some reason. 

Today is no different. People might not be familiar with the software platform (e.g., in this case Zoom) and not know how to let someone else be a host or show a video with or without its soundtrack. Monitors might not work; computers may crash; internet connections may go down. Outside events – everything from a baby crying a dog yelping or ConEd digging up the street below – may interfere. In my case, I set up a second laptop in my home office as a back-up the very first week, and created PDFs that could quickly be emailed

If a technology problem exists, and you solve it, as a presenter you now have a secondary problem: less time to make the presentation. In the pre-pandemic world, I led an investor/public relations firm. Most of my clients were allotted 30 minutes for investor conference presentations. Early on, I learned that conference centers have fire-drills, terrorist threats, etc., and they interfere with your time slot. In the Zoom presentation world m the same thing happens: we lose time fixing the technology.  For most 30 minute slots, clients develop 25 minute presentations, and use the last 5 minutes for Q&A. So what do most people do when they now only have 15 minutes?  They squeeze the full presentation into the shortened time-frame, leaving everyone – audience and presenter – unsatisfied. The mission is to impress and influence the audience, not do a speed-racing-data-dump.

We solved this problem by creating an Always-Prepared Presenter: after the main presentation was designed a scaled-down version (usually half-the time) was designed and the presenter prepared for both. This way, if we lost 15 minutes, we could present a complete, though abridged, presentation. The presenters often left the meeting as a “star”, because he/she was only one who delivered a properly paced presentation.  The contrast with your competitors can win the day!

So, consider creating shorter versions of the presentation, to stay in control of your message and build rapport with your audience, just in case the technology creates a time problem!

ADAP Is Even More Important Now

Over a decade ago, a client asked for a simple “lens” through which to filter all material in a presentation. After considerable thought and experimentation, we developed ADAP – Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentations.   

Over the last weeks, we’ve been overwhelmed by the number of “students” – clients and colleagues – who’ve noticed how people giving advice on marketing and selling to people during this pandemic are realizing the importance of our formula.

The first part (AD) means that as a presenter you need to understand how the audience is going to respond to different types of information and styles of presenting it. What are the sensitivities that will alienate them? What are the hooks that will grab their attention?

For instance, in a recent Investor’s Business Daily article entitled Adjust Marketing Message in a Pandemic, a financial planner commented, “Our intent in marketing now is to figure out what we can do to help. It’s not to take advantage of the pandemic to sell. It’s trying to help people with specific timely issues such as how this will affect their kids going back to school in the fall and other questions that arise if this thing continues.”

The more you know about the parties you are addressing, the better you will do. Recently, a company that sells women’s fancy dresses for formal occasions, was up for sale. The Seller was unable to get its price because buyers were afraid of what’s happening in retail – significantly declining sales while Ecommerce grows. Reviewing the failure, we noticed what was missing in their AD analysis: the buyers were all men who knew that men wear tuxedos to many of these events and wear the same one over and over again for several years, as long as it fit. So, for them, this was a typical retail issue: buying a new product can be postponed. But women can’t wear the same dress “twice”!  So this is not typical retail.  With that, we changed the introduction to the presentation, asking new buyers how often they wore the same tuxedo and how often their significant others wore the same dress. When they laughed at the difference, we knew they now understood that this was not a typical retail situation. With that, the company sold for the price the seller wanted.

Another reason for the success was the second part of the formula:  AP –authentic presentations. In this round of the presentations, the CEO – a woman – introduced her company and asked the question.  A lot more authentic than had it been simply a fact in a 40+ page presentation!

So, after you’ve figured out what issues will drive the audience to make favorable decisions, figure out how to make the presentation truly authentic – what vulnerabilities, experiences will cement the connection. This is especially true now as people juggle health, safety, financial, systemic racial sensitivities, etc. in addition to the specific concerns for your product or service.

Five Factor buyer-Focused Selling

Recently, I worked with two experts in adjacent areas. One is an NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) trainer/coach who shared with us the importance of communicating with words and phrases that resonate with the recipients’ Auditory, Kinesthetic or Visual method of incorporating information. The second showed us that all-too-often we communicate to buyers why WE want to sell (i.e., product/service features and benefits) rather than why THEY should want to buy (i.e., needs and wants). These are points, we teach in as ADAP presentations: Audience-driven; Authentic-presentations.

The discussion led to the development of a five factor buyer-focused selling model.  Let me share it.

  1. Outcome: Understand what the person WANTS from your product/service.  Get a firm agreement on the positive attribute so the person can buy it. A statement of they don’t want is unacceptable
  2. Evidence: What KPIs will the person use to measure that they got what they really want?
  3. Context:  In what context does the person want the product/service, and in which one does he/she not want (time, location, public/private, etc.)
  4. Ecology: Assuming you can deliver the first three, do you feel comfortable working with the buyer? If not,  your negativity is likely to surface; better to unravel the deal now.
  5. Obstacles: Assuming you can deliver the first three, is there a reason that the buyer still won’t buy? If so identify it now. (e.g., Person isn’t the final decision-maker!)

Do you think about these factors when selling? Do you use the NLP approach to read and communicate with others? If not consider it now; it works!


June 2021