19 May 2022 14:16:52 IST

Executive coach, an organisational development facilitator, and founder director of HR consulting and training company Delta Learning

How to make a power-packed presentation 

Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo, had famously remarked, “If you want to be a leader and you can’t communicate effectively, forget it.” You may have an excellent idea, but it may not see the light of day unless you can communicate it persuasively.

An impactful presentation is a function of what you say, how you say, and who you say it to. 

Who you say it to 

Remember that the audience is central to your presentation. For instance, having delivered talks on customer-centricity at more than 15 organisations, I have learned that while the basic principles remain the same, it is important to customise the examples and cases, since the context of the audience, say, at a call centre, is different from that of the sales force in a manufacturing company or the client-facing executives in a consulting firm.  

Similarly, your project updates would differ in terms of both the pitch and the level of detail based on who you are presenting to — your immediate manager, senior management, or client. Investing time researching your audience in terms of their educational background, roles, challenges, level of subject knowledge, and tuning into their ‘What’s In It For Me’ would undoubtedly reap rich dividends in the form of a presentation that truly resonates with the audience. 

What you say 

Present a deftly curated, well-researched and evidence-based content that is aligned with the needs and expectations of the audience. Give muscle to your narrative by incorporating strong logic backed by relevant data. Anticipate questions and be prepared to proactively address objections. 

How you say it 

How you say, is just as important as what you say. The way you deliver your content can go a long way in engaging the audience and be instrumental in the eventual success of your presentation. Here are four principles of presenting powerfully. 

Start with a punch 

Remember that in an attention-deficit and distracted world, the first 60 seconds are critical in grabbing the attention of the audience, establishing your credibility, and setting off to a stimulating start. So, don’t fritter away these precious moments thanking people, communicating boring housekeeping items, or rambling around an obvious agenda.

Instead, communicate the headlines of your message and get the audience instantly interested by kickstarting with an attention-seizing story, video, quote, question, or data. Consider the following examples: 

Ask a question 

I often start a women-centric talk with the question, “Did the workforce participation rate of women in India increase, decrease, or remain constant between 2000 and 2019?” The audience sits up in chairs and is invariably wonderstruck when they learn that the participation rate of women had actually declined during this period. 

Reveal startling data 

Here’s an example — the workforce participation rate of women in India at 23 per cent and is at par with Saudi Arabia and behind Pakistan (24 per cent) and Sri Lanka (35 per cent). 

Incorporate stories 

You may not remember the Archimedes principle, but remember the story about the time when Archimedes, displacing some water while stepping into his bathtub, had realised that the water displaced was equal to the weight of his body?

Remember that awestruck by his discovery, he had run out naked, dripping water on the streets of Syracuse shouting “Eureka, eureka”? Stories stick in the mind and get us instantly interested. In fact, our brains are hardwired to remember stories. 

How does one incorporate stories in business presentations? 

Consider this example: 

People without seat belts are 30 times more likely to be ejected from a vehicle during a crash and more than three out of four people who eject die from injuries. 

This narrative, wrapped in strong and credible data takes a rational, cognitive route, but there is a slim chance that it will drive people to action as it misses an emotional appeal. Instead, weave a story about a character cruising along in his car, who is rudely catapulted from this happy state into a scene of a ghastly accident.

The character would have been as good as dead, had it not been for the last-minute rescue by a knight in shining armour in the form of a seat belt. Make it real by giving the character a name, detailing the scene of the accident, and spelling out the character’s feelings at the moment, thus taking the audience along on a vicarious experience. Cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner says that a fact wrapped in a story is 22 times more memorable. 

Here’s another example: 

Let’s say you are promoting the idea of replacing an existing application with a new, more robust one, and you present the following challenges about the current system to back your advocacy. 

  • Duplication of data
  • Availability of data with a lag
  • Lack of transparency on data transformation
  • Likely exhaustion of storage capacity within a year 

How does it sound? Mundane, to say the least! 

Instead, spin a story around the misery of a character who is facing these challenges day in and day out. Next introduce the saviour in the form of a new application that steps in to revoke these challenges, thus catapulting the character into a happy state once again. 

Use visuals 

Educator Edgar Dale has demonstrated via his Learning Pyramid that people remember 20 per cent of what they hear, 30 per cent of what they see, and 50 per cent of what they hear and see. Evidently, the human brain processes visual cues better than the oral word. So, use visuals liberally. While telling a story, for instance, back your narrative with a picture of the character for the complete experience. 

Leverage the rule of three 

Indra Nooyi when receiving an award spoke about her three lessons in life. Steve Jobs introduced the revolutionary iPhone as three products — a phone, an iPod, and an internet communicator — bundled into one. And Jeff Bezos, when asked about the secret sauce of Amazon’s success, spoke of three big ideas. 

Why three? It is said that once is an accident, twice a coincidence, and three times a pattern. Our brain is tuned to recognising patterns — of objects, facts, ideas, emotions, and people. And three is the smallest quantum of information that forms a rhythm or a pattern. Elements grouped in three are, therefore, more rhythmical, more memorable, and more digestible because of the way our brain is programmed. 

So leverage the power of three to make your message memorable. Present three points or three ideas or three steps. Don’t overwhelm your audience by presenting fifteen. Similarly, structure your message using three sections.  

  1. Beginning, Middle, End 
  2. Problem, Cause, Solution
  3. What, Why, How

So, lend a muscle to your presentations by incorporating these ideas and emerge a winner.