As a marketer who spent much of her career working with multinationals, I have drafted more presentations than I can count. Over the years, I have worked on thousands of slides to build cases, present successes, and persuade audiences.
When I started Itani & Company, clients would consistently comment on the quality of my presentation style. I had always considered this a skill that any corporate employee was trained in, but I quickly learned that the obsession with presentations was limited to a few industries and thus many clients I interacted with did not know how to put together a compelling case nor teach their team how to do so. It was losing them business.
The worst presentations
Over time, I monitored how my clients’ teams presented their ideas. Thoughts weren’t fully formulated, recommendations were unclear, and the hour spent discussing slides often left the audience more confused. These types of meetings were a total waste of time.
This prompted me to develop a training that I offer to retainer clients to help their employees understand the basics of creating a strong presentation. One of the key concepts that resonated with every attendee was the three questions that I structure all my presentations around: “what?”, “so what?” and “what now?”.
This is the question that is the beginning and end to many failed presentations. Answering “what?” includes laying out the status quo of the topic matter and expanding on it, which is a proper starting point. The problem is when the presenter leaves an audience baffled because he only answered this question and went no further in analysis or recommendation. This puts the onus of understanding the point on the audience leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation. Most of the time, the audience doesn’t care enough to try to decipher what you wanted them to discern and your presentation is quickly forgotten.
This is arguably the most important question to answer in any presentation. How is the material you have shown relevant to the audience? How does it impact their lives or business? Why should what you have said matter to them?
For example, if you are sharing the impending launch of a competitor’s new product, you need to clearly explain how you foresee it impacting your own sales. Will it affect a launch you had planned? Will it eat into the sales of an existing product you sell? Will it influence your relationship with retailers? Answer these questions for you audience so they are not distracted during your presentation trying to connect the dots themselves.
Ok, so you’ve explained the situation and how it impacts your business. Now you have to round out your presentation with a recommendation of what needs to be done. Do you need to move your product launch up to beat your competitor to market? Do you need to alter the planned launch to distinctly differentiate the product further? Should your sales team go out in force to bolster relationships with the retailers?
I can’t stand when a presenter has not taken the time to develop a recommendation. Even if the presentation is meant to be a launch point for discussion, a few options for next steps should be offered. The failure to do so always gives me the impression that a) the presenter is not competent enough to offer a solution or b) the presenter doesn’t want the responsibility of offering a solution that may not work or c) the presenter was too lazy to put together a solution.
In all three cases, no answer to “what now?” leaves a poor impression.
Before presenting, ask yourself these three questions
After finalizing your presentation, ask yourself these three simple questions before going into your meeting to check if you have answered them for your audience. If not, find the gaps and plug them to avoid offering opportunities for people to poke holes in your case. The more solid your answers are to each question, the more clear your points become and the more potential there is to influence your audience. This simple check will ensure your hard work isn’t sent to the grave by a poor presentation.
Note: This article is an expansion on the above Marketing Monday (#ICoMM) video about structuring a strong presentation.