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!

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