Creating a captivating presentation can be intimidating and sometimes overwhelming. You’re confronted with a blank page, the cursor blinking at you relentlessly, daring you to try to put your words and thoughts together into something coherent and compelling.
Where do you even start? Should you try to craft an interesting introduction? Nail down all the main bullet points? Pull together interesting anecdotes?
Let me suggest something that may sound a bit counterintuitive: start with the end in mind.
The next time you sit down to work on a presentation, start by figuring out what you want your audience to do and what feelings will most likely lead them to do it.
Specifically, think about your call-to-action and how to stir the right feelings in your audience that will cause them to act.
Your call-to-action is the big thing you want your audience to do as a result of your presentation. You’re not just speaking to hear yourself talk. You want your words to lead the audience to take specific, decisive action.
Every presentation should have just one call-to-action. If you give your audience more than one take away, it will diffuse your audience’s motivation and excitement. It has the potential to confuse them as well. Should they focus on this or that? Should they take this action or that one? More than one call-to-action can lead to paralysis by analysis. Instead of taking action, the audience becomes overwhelmed by all the decisions they have to make and ends up doing nothing.
What if you have a complicated topic that requires more than one action? Split it up into numerous sub-goals with one overarching main goal. For example, let’s say you’re giving a presentation entitled “10 Tips For Becoming A Better Public Speaker”. The primary goal is that those in your audience would become better public speakers. Under that primary goal, you have 10 small, easily achievable sub-goals that all move the audience toward the primary goal.
You should seek to communicate your one big call-to-action early in your presentation. This anchors it in the mind of your audience and helps them process the rest of your presentation through the lens of your primary call-to-action. As the old public speaking adage says, “Tell them what you’re going to say, say it, then tell them what you said.” Or perhaps a better way to say it is, “Tell them what you’re going to inspire them to do, inspire them to do it, then tell them how you inspired them to do it.” The second phrase reflects the fact that you’re seeking to get your audience to take action, not just hear your words.
The goal of your presentation is to inspire people to do something. You want your audience to feel things deeply and then respond to those feelings with appropriate action.
So how do you inspire your audience? There are numerous ways. You can use excitement to inspire people. You can help your audience get excited about achieving something important, like saving time or increasing personal effectiveness or growing personally.
Fear can also be a powerful way to inspire people. To be clear, you’re not trying to use scare tactics to motivate people. Rather, you’re trying to help people avoid a negative outcome. For example, people have a fear of mediocrity and failure and irrelevance. If you can tap into their fears, you can motivate them to pursue the opposite, positive outcomes.
When crafting your presentation, think about what types of content will evoke the desired emotions. What stories, historical events, personal anecdotes, or industry happenings will resonate with people on a deep, profound level? What metaphors or comparisons will make an emotional connection?
Remember, you’re starting with the end in mind. When you know the action you want the audience to take and the feelings necessary to get them to take action, it makes it much easier to craft the rest of your presentation.
In addition to starting with the end in mind, it’s critically important that you avoid common mistakes many people make when presenting in front of an audience.
What sorts of mistakes? Here are just a few:
Losing the audience – Many speakers get lost in the details of their presentation or the sound of their own voice. They’re so focused on presenting that end up losing their audience.
Lack of awareness – When you’re presenting, you’re not just speaking words to an empty room. You’re talking to real people, and you need to hold their attention. You need to connect with them and to make them feel the import of what you’re saying. Maintain eye contact with your audience so you can be sure they’re paying attention. If you’re comfortable with it, interact with the audience by asking them questions that they can answer by raising their hands.
Death by PowerPoint – If you have a slide for every point you make, you’ll inevitably end up tied to your notes and unable to engage freely with the audience. Your audience will quickly become bored because you’re just reading off of slides.
Talking too long – Few things make an audience more restless than speaking longer than your allotted time. Don’t go on and on with your presentation and don’t endlessly repeat yourself. Be succinct and to the point.
Too much jargon – If you’re going to inspire your audience, you need to speak to them in a language that they understand. The words and phrases you use should be familiar to them and easily understandable. For example, if you’re giving a marketing message to a technical audience, the marketing message should be couched in technical terms (and vice versa).
The “Ending First” Worksheet
To help you think through all of these things when you create a presentation, we created an “Ending First” worksheet. It will help you determine your primary call-to-action, the feelings you want to evoke, the types of content that will resonate most with your audience, and more. Use it as a guide the next time you create a presentation.