Persuasive Presentations, Part 2: Setting the Stage

Seems so simple, right?

Right.  So far we have established that anyone can be a persuasive presenter, the first step as you embark on your new career as a Supersuader is to understand the raw materiel that you’re working with.  Of course you are delightful, with a sparkling personality.  At least that’s what your Mother says.  Even with your Mother’s rapturous endorsement you need to understand and evaluate – with the ruthlessness of a Visigoth – how other people see you.  You need to know what to emphasize and what to buttress.

Speaker, Know Thyself!

Who ARE you?  What is YOUR personality?  What are your STRENGTHS?  What are your WEAKNESSES?

This step in our process is where the torturous high school experience of watching videotape of yourself presenting, pays off.   Look past the horror of watching yourself and try to be objective.  I said try.  Honestly, it’s the best you can do.  Instead of cringing at every hideous misstep, think of it as an opportunity to change or downplay those bad habits.

So Much on the To Do List

The most insight is gained when you place yourself in the position of the Listener.  “What’s in it for the other person?”  is one of Bill Little’s most foundational ideas for Little’s culture.  A Supersuader needs to subordinate what they want to tell someone, and how they want to tell it, to what an audience really wants to hear, and how they will understand it.  I am not saying that you need to calibrate what you’re saying to manipulate the audience.  I am saying that you need to approach the interaction saying to yourself, “What drew the audience to this presentation?  What answers are they looking for?  What is the clearest way for me to communicate the concept?”.

Think back to presentations where you have impressed by the speaker, when you have been a member of the audience.  What captured your esteem?  We are not above the “reinterpretation” of techniques here.

I readily admit copying people who I have been impressed with in a presentation.  When I was in college, I had a Shakespeare teacher who memorized the name of every student she had on the first day of class.  She would go through the list once, looking at each student’s name and face, and then at the end of class she would identify everyone in the room.  Now, there were at least 45 students in my class, and this teacher had multiple classes.  It was a showstopper.  I graduated in 1983 and I’m still talking about it.  I am not too proud to say that I have employed this strategy in large meetings when I want to capture the attention of people in the room, and establish a certain authority.  People like being the center of attention (see Mom, above), and they remember you fondly if you remember them at all.

Very well.  Now we have laid ourselves bare, and have identified the things that we do well, and the things that we need to polish up – we are self-aware.  We are a blank canvas waiting for paint (ok sort of, we still presumably have some bad habits lurking in the shadows).

Most people are self-aware enough to know that they are very uncomfortable presenting.  Uncomfortable to the point of faking their own death to escape this presentation.  Or, for the preservation of their sanity, they have to wedge themselves into a mindset that all they have to do is GET THROUGH THIS, and all will be well.  There are a few things to keep in mind that will help keep the panic at bay, allow you to relax, and over time begin to really enjoy the presentation process.  No, really, I’m serious.

1. People Want You to do Well – most people sitting in a presentation understand that they are locked into it until it’s done. They’re committing to spend an hour, or two listening to what you say. They want you to be engaging, enlightening, entertaining. For that reason they’re With You. Strike while this feeling lasts!

2. Know Your Material – many people have had the nightmare of drawing a complete blank in a presentation. You can’t get lost if you know what you’re talking about. You know the shades, the complexities, the personal anecdotes that illuminate. If you talk about things you know, and have prepared thoroughly, it will give you a confidence that you can’t get in any other way – and it deflects the pressure from your performance. YOU KNOW THIS STUFF!

3. No Winging It – Mother was right. You must take the time to prepare. Not only for the content that you’ll be presenting, but also to anticipate questions that might be asked in a Q&A session. I used to use almost all of the time I had to prepare for a presentation creating and tweaking my visual presentation (and I could tweak forever!). I have realized that what you say, if said well, can be more powerful than what you show.

4. Write Your Part Out – writing or typing your material out allows you to imprint the material in your mind. It gives you a chance to hear yourself, and to choose words and cadences that sound like you. Most of all, it forces you to organize your material and to pop, the most important idea about a topic, out .

5. Practice! Practice! Practice! – practicing out loud allows you to take your presentation out for a test drive.  It si also the part of the prep that people hate the most.  “I peak in front of a crowd”, “I’ll get stale if I practice too much” are the frequent answers to this rule.  But you’ve spent ALL of this time creating this amazing content – how could you possibly jeopardize the delivery of it by not hearing it, and tweaking it accodringly?  Phrases that look great in print may not actually roll trippingly off your tongue.  They may be difficult for you to remember, or may not sound authentic to who you are. Practice allows you to develop the mental and verbal muscle memory to further anchor the content in your mind. Also, hearing things help you listen for rhythm, and flow, which can daylight difficult transitions in your content and give you a chance to re-work them for the better.  We’re not asking for Meryl Streep here.  It doesn’t have to be a performance.  We just want you to read it aloud a few times.


In the next installment of this series we will learn about the six different elements of a successful presentation and explore them in depth.  A mnemonic device for these elements is SPICES because spices are the things that help pump up the flavors in a meal.  In our case they will stand for:



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