Shake up: your presentations

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Those consultants who can get across their genuine passion and enthusiasm are the ones clients want to connect with and the ones colleagues are inspired by.

Presentations offer a great opportunity to do this, but displays potentially rich with strong feelings and emotions can become dampened down into something more functional, as last time’s slide-deck is used as this time’s start point and as precedent speaker notes are recycled.

Here are five things you can do to shake things up:

1. Apply the 2:1 ratio

After decades of research as an acclaimed business communications coach, Carmine Gallo found that the most engaging presentations typically gave around 1/3 of their focus to professional credentials, data and evidence, and around 2/3s to showcasing the presenter’s passion and emotional appeal.

Applying this ratio requires some subjective judgement.

Rather than trying to execute it as a strict logical process – for instance, by simply setting aside 10 minutes of a 15 minute presentation to passion and emotional appeal – we should instead aim for the audience to be quietly convinced of our suitability to present on the subject at hand, but absolutely blown away by our belief in the potential and transformative power of what we’re talking about.

2. Say or do something unexpected

Susan Cain – writer, lecturer and author of best-selling book ‘Quiet’ – started a presentation to a roomful of mainly extroverted, highly-focused CEOs, by telling them that “There’s no correlation between producing good ideas and being a good talker”.

In so doing, she shattered their common belief that people who speak up the most in meetings are the most creative, and increased the possibility of her audience remembering it.

Opening a presentation to your department’s newest recruits with “Why you’ll fail to live up to your potential” would trigger a similar reaction.

Using your unexpected opening as a foundation on which to build a talk which goes on to explain that most people don’t achieve what they really want because they’re afraid of following their passions – and that their new firm will help them let go of these fears and pursue a career that makes them come alive – will mean your presentation is much more likely to have the desired impact.

3. Be vivid

You’re much more likely to connect with your audience if you can paint them some vivid pictures.

For instance, prospective clients are much more likely to remember that your firm has a new assurance tool if they hear that “it’s the Sherlock Holmes of the financial software world” rather than simply “AuditWatch is our new, groundbreaking assurance product.”

Similarly, launching an initiative to increase cross-function referrals within your firm is more likely to be successful if your presentation challenges colleagues to “understand what it is that keeps your clients awake at night”, rather than a bland call-to-action to increase cross-function sales by 10%.

4. Stimulate the senses

Think about the last time you were nervously excited about something.

Perhaps ahead of your first day in a new job.

How did you feel on the day? Was your stomach tied in knots? Did your hands feeling clammy? What did your surroundings look and sound like while you were sat in reception waiting to meet your new team? And what about the smell of that breakfast you tried to force down on the morning of the big day?

We feel things more deeply when we experience them with more of our senses.

So we should try to stir-up some emotions that would otherwise be left untouched by a more traditional presentation approach.

For instance, if you want to include details of how you’ve helped other clients:

  • “The MD felt like his office door had been bolted and the walls were closing in…“, might be better than simply “The MD was running out of time and options…”
  • Or, “At the end of the project we sat outside with the HRD on a Summer’s eve and enjoyed a few glasses of bubbly Prosecco…” might be better than “The initiative was approved by the Board…”

5. Give your take

“Authenticity trumps A-listers.”

Every firm has their big name flagship clients that they’re rightly proud of advising, but when it comes to including case studies in your presentation, authenticity trumps A-listers.

Wrestling BigCo plc from a major competitor was no doubt a worthy achievement, but the impact of featuring it in your presentation will be lost if you can’t get across the emotional journey either leading up to the ‘win’ or following the take-on as a client.

So, to make sure you’re able to effectively give your own take, only include clients as case-studies where:

  • You had first-hand exposure to the emotional ups and downs of the tender process (which, ideally, was no more than two or three years ago), or
  • You have a continued exposure to the challenges and successes of working directly with the client, through a role in delivery or relationship management

The rawness of a more direct experience – even if it’s a smaller, lesser known client – will be much more impactful.

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