Think about the last presentation you gave, whether it was to your employees, your investors, or your customers. What was your goal? What did you want your audience to understand at the end of your talk? More importantly, what did you want them to do as a result of listening to you?
When we think about preparing a standout presentation, we tend to focus on engaging the audience—on holding onto their attention and inspiring them to listen to what we say. And for good reason. If we can’t engage our audiences, there’s no chance we’ll be able to impact them in any way.
But for a presentation to be truly effective, it has to go further than engagement. It has to move the audience in some way, whether that’s convincing them to rethink a previously held opinion, influencing their outlook on your company’s health, or inspiring them to take action in favor of (or against) a given initiative.
How do you make the leap? How do you take a presentation from simple, engaging entertainment to one that’s powerful enough to move your audience?
Here are three key steps to moving your audience to action every single time.
1. Understand your Audience’s Objectives
When it comes to moving an audience, understanding their goals is as important as understanding your own. Putting your audience first is critical for any effective communication event, and here’s why: every audience comes to the table with a unique set of expectations, values, concerns, and backgrounds, and if they feel like you’re giving them a canned talk—without taking their perspectives into account—they’ll tune out immediately.
So before you start crafting your presentation, dive into the task of getting to know your audience. Understand who they are, where they come from, their education, their ideologies, and what they expect from you. Then, as you start to craft your content—incorporating the stories, emotional appeals, and color that make for an engaging presentation—you can tailor those elements to your individual audience’s expectations and needs.
You’re not pandering. Your core message doesn’t change, but by custom-fitting your content to each unique audience, you’re setting yourself up to deliver a message that resonates on a personal level. And when you do that successfully, your audience is far more likely to take up your call to action.
2. And Be Clear about Your Own
Once you know your audience inside and out, get clear on what you want to achieve. What do you want your audience to take away from their time with you, and what do you want them to do as a result?
If you try to accomplish too much, you’ll find both you and your audience struggle to identify what’s really important, and you’ll end up with a watered-down message that, though it may be engaging and it may resonate with your audience, won’t lead to action.
So whatever your goal, make it clear, objective, and actionable. Perhaps you want them to invest in your company or write a letter their congresswoman or share your story with ten of their friends. Use this goal to drive your content, and be sure to share that expectation with your audience so that they have specific “marching orders” at the end of the day.
Sometimes we think we’re too busy; sometimes we think we don’t need the practice; sometimes we’re afraid preparation will lead to an overly rehearsed, forced-feeling speech. Whatever the reason, it’s all too easy to skip the practice that is so critical to a compelling, persuasive presentation.
Here’s the secret: When you know your talk inside and out, you actually give yourself much more freedom to be flexible, to adjust based on your audience’s reactions, and to answer unexpected questions. If you’re unprepared, however, the slightest distraction (internal or external) may leave you flustered. Your audience will know you didn’t dedicate time to preparing, and they’ll suspect it’s because you don’t respect or value them enough. Your motives, your reputation, and your relationship with your audience will be on the line, and you’ll be far less likely to have any sort of concrete, lasting impact.
So how much should you prepare? From crafting your content to dress rehearsals on the stage, some experts suggest a ten-to-one prep time to presentation time ratio, others recommend an hour of preparation for every minute of performance, and CEO Noah Zandan will tell you from personal experience that, if you’re giving a TED Talk, you’d better be ready to hunker down. At the very least, however, we tell clients that at least three full practice runs are critical before stepping on stage.