Three Approaches to Better Presentations

Whether it’s a team effort or a one-person responsibility, a presentation can make or break a contract or client relationship. This brief article gives you three critical elements required for preparing a successful presentation.

If you provide a product or a service, there is truth in the old adage that “products don’t sell, people do.” Certainly, there are isolated exceptions, but person-to-person contact is invaluable for most businesses. In this framework, the business presentation holds a unique and critical place. It is an essential part of the public relations, marketing, and sales for any company, large or small.

For more than forty-five years, I have been coaching professionals who give presentations as part of their work. Although each one has had its unique characteristics, some similarities and commonalities have been equally valuable to all. Here are three which are germane to all presentations.


Affect and Technology

“Affect” refers to the general impact of the presentation – the feeling it creates and the impression it leaves. It’s like overhearing loud voices in the next room or getting “an impression” of what is actually going on.

Affect refers to the openness, tension, or mood of the presentation experience. It is largely intangible but a very real and important part of effective communication. Speaking and delivery characteristics such as tone, volume, speed, movement, visuals, and gestures are common contributors to the Affect of a presentation.

“The Technology” of the presentation refers to the specific techniques which are built into the delivery. For instance, what type of organization should be used? What vocabulary or jargon would be appropriate for the presentation and audience/listeners? What persuasive techniques should be used? If it’s a team presentation, who should speak first? Is s/he a good speaker?

Technology carefully measures the skills required for effective communication with your audience. Do I have enough clarity in my speech? Does my voice sound confident? Are my nerves under control?

The measure of success of a business presentation is directly related to the accuracy with which you prepare for both the Affect and the Technology inherent in the experience.

Unfortunately, many “presenters” focus mainly on their personal preparation and comfort levels. In reality, of course, the Affect and Technology required by the listener are equally important. Truly effective speakers are carefully conscious of their “listeners” wants and needs. They prepare themselves for their audience and prepare their audience for themselves.

The concept of Affect and Technology provides a viable means for critical analysis of the overall experience.



The second element is a simple but effective method for organizing presentations. Most of us are aware of the age-old advice of schoolteachers and naval captains about transmitting information:

• Tell them what you’re going to tell them
• Tell them
• Tell them what you told them

It is a tried and true formula for simplicity. But unfortunately, it is of marginal value as a persuasive tool. However, many years ago, I expanded this three-step outline to evolve into a four-step outline.

• Tell them what you’re going to tell them
• Tell them why they should listen
• Tell them
• Tell them what you told them

The addition of Step 2 is based on the value of putting the benefits of listeners’ attention upfront and early in the presentation. By this, I mean a benefit, which the listener would derive by simply hearing the rest of the presentation. Their time and attention are precious; why should they listen to you? If you can’t answer that, your presentation will be in big trouble.

Listeners need a good reason (incentive) to pay attention. However, that is not a reason for agreeing or accepting your proposal – that comes in Step 3. It is simply a value to be derived by merely listening to your talk. If you find completing Step 2 in this four-step outline difficult, your presentations will miss a core component and lack powerful impact. Think about it, if you cannot give them a good reason to pay attention, don’t expect them to get creative.

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