I love presentations. I love going to them and I love giving them.
You have a defined amount of time, during which a bunch of people come together to listen to a message.
Whether your presentation is online (a SlideShare, a webinar) or in the real world (a talk to a large or small audience), a formal presentation can create a memorable experience that will educate, inspire, and entertain.
Unless, of course, your presentation sucks. Which, sadly, most of them do.
You and I have both dozed through too many boring, lifeless, and irrelevant presentations.
Fortunately, we have this cool tool called copywriting, which is all about how to deliver a message in a way that’s compelling.
Could we use those techniques to deliver more fascinating presentations?
As a matter of fact, we absolutely could. Here’s how.
#1: Focus on the benefits
“Benefits, not features” is one of those cornerstones of copywriting.
In other words, you focus on what this Thing (talk, product, service, free report, etc.) is going to do for the buyer, not on the boring mechanics of how it works.
As the copywriting cliché goes, you don’t sell a drill; you sell the hole in the wall that gives you a place for the screw that lets you hang your kid’s adorable baby picture in your office and give you a moment of happiness in your stressful work day.
Failure to understand this is what makes presentations boring. And that goes all the way from tiny presentations in front of six people to giant pitchfests at huge conferences delivered by mega corporations with all the budget on planet Earth.
By definition, your time with these folks is limited. What do you want them to be able to do, have, attain, or feel by the end of your time together today?
“Make people better at something they want to be better at.”
– Kathy Sierra
If you’re answering that question with, “They’ll learn about the 15 new features of MegaCorp’s exciting new product,” you fail. Your presentation will be crushingly boring.
If you answer it with, “They’ll learn how to do a specific thing that gets them a promotion this year. There’s a new MegaCorp tool that cuts the time in half to do that,” you’re on the right track.
It can’t be 15 things, because this is a presentation, not a university course.
What’s the one benefit they’ll get out of attending the presentation? What’s their single, powerful takeaway that lets them become more awesome?
#2: Understand your “Who”
When I gave a presentation for the Inbound conference a couple of years back, I talked about audience engagement, about how frustrating it can be to write by committee, and about the joys of Moleskines and having a favorite pen.
When I gave a presentation for Dan Kennedy’s audience, I talked about fast content marketing strategies, leads and conversion, and the concrete ways that content can lead to more business.
When I gave a presentation for an intimate audience over at Orbit Media, I talked about dreams and passions and the things that scare the hell out of me.
All of these were talks about content marketing strategy. But the audiences were in very different places, thinking about different things.
When I’m giving a talk, I don’t ask the audience to come to where I am. (They won’t.)
I go meet them where they are.
The presenters who work for MegaCorp have a specific deck that’s been approved by Legal and the Brand team and that runs down all the talking points to provide cover for the latest launch campaign.
And those presentations are boring. Brain-meltingly boring.
Because they don’t speak to anything that’s actually going on with the specific audience in front of them.
Understand who’s there in front of you. (Even if they’re with you virtually.) Ask them questions. Find out what’s on their minds. Give them the opportunity to make your talk more relevant by speaking to the conversation going on in their heads.
#3: Make the pitch
Every presentation is a pitch. Otherwise, there’s no point in making it.
But not every pitch involves selling something for money.
Every worthwhile presentation tries to get the audience to do something differently.
You might be selling the adoption of a new idea, a change in a behavior pattern, the use of a different tool, a different approach.
If you aren’t trying to persuade your audience, there’s no reason for you to take up their time. Everyone would be better off just grabbing a coffee and catching up on email.
A copywriter knows what she’s trying to sell. She makes her case coherently and succinctly. She provides the evidence. She gives examples of others who have benefited from “buying.”
Whether you’re selling an idea, a process, a tool, or a product, get clear.
Trying to sell a bunch of different things at once, by the way, confuses the audience, which typically causes them to walk away with a headache and find someone else to listen to.
#4: Tell them what to do next
A presentation is limited in time. Thankfully.
You have, let’s say, 45 minutes to give your talk. Cut at least five minutes off of that just for housekeeping and fluff and nonsense.
That gives you 40 minutes to transmit a persuasive idea and convince your audience to adopt it.
And then what?
If you care about moving that audience, if you care that they get the results they want (and if you don’t, why not give your spot to someone who does?), they’re going to need a next step. In copywriting terms, they need a call to action.
This can be done bluntly. (“Here’s a whitepaper: download it and one of our sales associates will call you twice a week until you quit your job or die.”)
It can be done subtly. I recently attended an excellent presentation that contained relevant references to a premium coaching product throughout. At the end of the presentation, the speaker pointed everyone to the sales professional who had come along to answer questions about the product.
It can be done masterfully. At that same Dan Kennedy event, I watched Bill Glazer give a talk that raised all of the thorny questions around a particular business problem — then spend about eight minutes walking through a product that solved all of them.
(Don’t avoid events that feature masters of pitching, by the way. FedEx your credit card to Antarctica if you have to, but watching these folks and taking notes will teach you a lot about the architecture of persuasion.)
The simplest version is to let the audience know how they can stay connected. It might mean asking them to sign up for an email list, with some kind of incentive that’s directly related to your presentation. (Checklists, mind maps, and cheat sheets are all handy for this.)
If the event organizer would prefer you not do that, you’ll need to get creative.
What’s their next step?
If you’re selling an idea or a behavior change, the next step might not involve you at all. But there’s something they can go out into the world and do, to get where they want to go.
No matter how great your talk, it can’t get your audience all the way there. What’s the next simple step they should take? You’re the expert. You’re there to help them get the thing they want. Tell them.
How about you?
What makes a presentation interesting for you? What makes it deathly dull? Or uncomfortable?
Let us know in the comments. 🙂
Reader Comments (10)
Praveen Rajarao says
That is an interesting read. For me, any seminar or presentation more than 40mins is boring. I think it has been proved that no one can retain their concentration on a subject for more than an hour at a stretch.
But those points are good to keep the audience engaged.
Sonia Simone says
I think a lot of folks would agree with you on the timing. It does depend somewhat on the structure — movies last twice that long, and we like movies. 🙂 But that’s a more advanced set of presentation skills, to create a multi-textured experience that helps the audience stay interested.
Daniel Bamigboye says
I personally like it when the speaker at any event has done deep research as regards his or her audience. I also prefer short presentations that leave a whole lot of time for Q & A. This gives an opportunity for participants to ask personalized questions that the speaker can answer precisely with greater valuable and actionable tips.
Hassaan Khan says
I have attended many seminars, meetups, and conferences, and there are always multiple speakers who talk. I find it fascinating when a speaker starts off on a lighter note. “Is auditorium hot?”, “Who doesn’t watch Netflix?”, “Any soccer player here?”
People immediately start to think, respond, and observe.
And, interestingly, this gives the speaker a room to settle in and get accepted. I learn a lot from these small things whether a speaker cracks a joke in the beginning, or the copywriter starts off the article with a story. It comes down to the captivity of attention.
I enjoyed the blog post. Great work, Sonia!
Hazim Alaeddin says
Great post. Presentation skills, in my experience, come from people who truly want to help. You hit the nail on the head when you said that your content should want to give someone skills that will get them that promotion.
I think if the premise is to help someone else, the audience will engage and be interested because they will learn something of value. There are, however, people that are much better at writing then they are at speaking. I guess they will be called “ghost writers” 🙂
Marcin Kordowski says
Completely agree with all 5 points. If you prepare a story and presentation will be simple message not about the product, but how to resolve the issue. It will be the best way to perfect speech. Before you prepare story you should know, who you will talk and what style you should chose. Thanks for the interesting article.
Rohan Bhardwaj says
Yesterday I saw ppt of an event in my company. Out of 5 people, only 1 included the call to action.
And she included a thank you note from a “A” list person. Something which would make people sign up more.
Great article, Sonia. Thank you.
Jitendra Vaswani says
These are some excellent tips for making a nice presentation. For me, I always try to make my presentation interesting by including facts and works that will catch people’s attention.
A presentation with a clear idea and not too long to make it boring is always great to look at.
Thanks for sharing this article. I really liked reading this.
Have a great day ahead.
Gayle Smith says
Awesome! I am a writer/marketer for industrial software. It can be tough getting past the mindset of the “15 new features….” lol. Thanks, great read.
Sonia Simone says
Yeah, sometimes it’s getting it past your own team that’s the hard part 😀
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