Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 6, Issue 26;   June 28, 2006: Presenting to Persuade

Presenting to Persuade

by

Successful, persuasive presentations involve a whole lot more than PowerPoint skills. What does it take to present persuasively, with power?

The video ended, Ginny clicked the window closed, and swiveled her chair to face Sid and Mort. Sid was staring at the screen, in awe of what he'd just seen — a master at work. Mort was gazing out the window, in thought.

Presenting to persuade"Now that presentation worked," Ginny said, "and it wasn't much different from ours."

Sid was puzzled. "Let's watch it again," he said. "I can't figure this out."

Mort returned from wherever he'd been. "I remember a presentation training from awhile back," he said. "This guy we just watched was following the same pattern they taught us. You remember, Ginny, you were there, I think."

"Right…a four-step framework, wasn't it?"

Between the two of them, Mort and Ginny reconstructed the four-step framework for presenting to persuade. Here it is:

Start with their pain
Begin by connecting the audience with the parts of their pain that you can address. This motivates them. It gives you credibility, because it proves that you've been there, too.
For example, if you're talking to a group about designing presentations, you could remind them how hard it is to achieve connection and credibility, especially when the audience doesn't really know you. You're showing them that you share their pain, and you're reminding them of the problem, too.
Feature your features
Too much emphasis
on features per se
is a common mistake
Once you've identified their pain, talk about the features of your solution, describing how those features address their pain. For extra punch, show how other solutions that lack those features might not address the pain as effectively. In other words, show how the features of your solution are both necessary and sufficient.
Feature your features, but take care to connect each one to the pain. Too much emphasis on features per se is such a common mistake that it has a name: feature-mongering.
Brag about benefits
Bragging can be hard for some of us, but people do tend to discount whatever presenters say. If you don't emphasize strengths (pre-discount) then after the discount, most of the audience will have an inaccurate picture of the value of the solution.
The benefits of the solution are direct benefits from the audience's point of view — not yours. Lower maintenance cost for future versions is not a direct benefit, but faster introduction of new capability and faster repair of design problems are direct benefits.
To find the underlying benefit of any feature, repeatedly ask yourself "So What?" When the answer to this series of questions stops changing, that answer is the end-user benefit. See "Deliver the Headline First," Point Lookout for May 3, 2006, for more.
Provide proof
Finally, give some proof that the benefits are attainable with your solution. Proof can be a demonstration, a survey, a prototype, measurements, customer endorsements, endorsements of authorities, whatever you think will work.

You'll attend many presentations over the next few months. Notice which ones have real impact, and notice which ones follow this framework. Does it work? Go to top Top  Next issue: Are You a Fender?  Next Issue

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More articles on Effective Communication at Work:

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In project work, we often make decisions with incomplete information. Sometimes we narrow the options to a few, examine their strengths and risks, and make a choice. In our deliberations, some advocates use a technique called the Straw Man fallacy. It threatens the soundness of the decision, and its use is very common.
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When we use threats and intimidation to win debates or agreement, we lay a flimsy foundation for future action. Using fear may win the point, but little more.
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Sometimes, when we ask questions, we're more interested in eliciting behavior from the person questioned, rather than answers. Here's Part II of a set of techniques questioners use when the answer to the question wasn't the point of asking.
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Participants in group discussions sometimes reference each other's contributions using the contributor's name. This risks offending the contributor or others who believe the idea is theirs. Naming ideas is less risky.
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See also Effective Communication at Work and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill BridgeComing May 29: Rescheduling: Project Factors
Rescheduling is what we do when we can no longer honor the schedule we have now. Of all causes of rescheduling, the more controllable are those found at the project level. Attending to them in one project can limit their effects on other projects. Available here and by RSS on May 29.
A switch in the tracks of a city tramwayAnd on June 5: The Reactive Rescheduling Cycle
When the current schedule is no longer viable, we reschedule. But rescheduling is unlike devising a schedule before work has begun. People know that we're "behind" and taking time to reschedule only makes things worse. Political pressure doesn't help. Available here and by RSS on June 5.

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