You persuade through reason; you motivate through emotion. That’s the nub of it. You will be persuasive if you:

  • have an easy to follow structure for every presentation
  • signpost (tell audience what is going on) regularly
  • articulate and repeat a small number of clear messages

Regular dollops of evidence help as well.

I will reflect on how to motivate when we cover Habit 8 – Engage the audience as much as possible.

In this post I will focus on why structuring is so important, how to signpost and the power of 3.

Why structure?

Selecting and structuring any presentation (whether 5 minutes or a 2-day training) is the fourth step of my preparation model, having considered your outcome and identified what your audience wants. Your audience like to know where they are headed – the structure of most news bulletins is typically: headlines / main stories / headlines.

Over thirty million presentations are given every day. Why? – typically, to change minds, impart information, or educate.  Most will be ‘Death by PowerPoint’ presentations, and after listening to enough of these, you learn a few things about how to do it right. One of the easiest ways to clean up the Death by PowerPoint presentation is by organising the content into a clear, organised flow.  Without a clear flow, the audience will lose a sense of purpose. Studies show that audience retention is improved by 40% with an effective and clear structure. So, I am kind of hoping you are persuaded now!!

Signpost regularly

Signposts are phrases that let the audience know where you are and what you are going to do. They are important verbal statements to engage the audience and help your audience process the ideas that you are conveying. Audience members have short attention spans and as a public speaker you need to work hard to continually capture their attention. By signposting, you allow the audience to maintain their attention on you so you can continue to deliver your message and ensure it lands.

At several points in your presentation, right from the start, you will use phrases such as ‘let’s move now to…’, ‘let me digress’, ‘to conclude’ or you might throw out a rhetorical question – ‘how does this work?’ Short signposts work better than long ones so keep your signposting simple. A signpost implies you are moving on to another key message. How many key messages can any audience consume easily and effortlessly?

The Power of 3

Less is more. Avoid cramming your presentation with too much information. Too much information delivered in a short period of time confuses people. And confused people don’t buy. Keep it simple and you bring the audience with you. George Miller (1956) published a famous article entitled ‘The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two’ in which he reviewed existing research into short-term memory. In it he postulated that in a short period of time (say a 20-minute presentation!) we cannot remember more than 5-9 key points. Do you remember the Generation Game in which a conveyor belt of gifts slowly progress in front of the winner? The hosts (Bruce to the Baby Boomers, Mel and Sue to the Gen Xers) typically had to remind the winner of the prizes what they had forgotten within a few seconds.

Exceptional presenters pare down their content so that it is all relevant. Too many leaders’ presentations are boring because they contain too much content. An audience is far more likely to listen if you stay on target and are succinct. In fact, they’ll love you for it! Keep it short and to the point. The audience will only remember 10% of what you say anyway, even if you are a brilliant presenter. When creating content to support your presentation, remember these 3 tips:

  • You are the presentation, not PowerPoint. Make sure the audience focus on you rather than on the slides.
  • Make sure your content is in service of achieving your objective.
  • Minimise the number of slides and replace these with anecdotes, discussions and exercises to engage the audience

This is an example of the Power of 3. It is a principle in both written and spoken communication that suggests if you wrap in a message in threes it will be inherently more memorable, more satisfying or more effective. The brain finds it easy to grasp 3 ideas and you will be more credible – ABC, blood sweat and tears, 3 Musketeers, Holy Trinity, Nike (Just Do It) and political slogans – Britain isn’t working (still rather relevant!).

So, my key messages are:

  • You’ll be more persuasive if you create an easy to follow structure for every presentation
  • Signpost to keep people on track
  • Reduce your content and use The Power of 3 to make your messaging memorable.

What is your key takeaway?

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