How to Create and Deliver More Compelling Presentations

Creating new value in business is a social and political process. Here is how to persuade your audience to action.

Chris Conley

August 9, 2016

Who doesn’t want to present their ideas to others more effectively? When you present effectively, your audience engages. They give you better feedback. They offer support. They connect you to others. They expect you to move forward.

When you fail to connect with your audience, they seemingly turn into harsh critics who are unwilling to help! They ask question after question, tell you to go figure more things out, and come back at a later date.

What is the difference?


The main difference is whether the presenter is trying to convince the audience rather than connect with them.

When trying to convince an audience, you make rational arguments. You draw on facts, data and reason.

In response, the audience thinks about your facts and data. Where did they come from? Is there really enough there to make a decision? How representative is that data? Why should I believe this?

In contrast, connecting with the audience means they develop an emotional attachment to your content. They feel something. They relate to what you are saying and want to know more. They are curious. And as a result, they engage.

So let’s break it down. Here are the essentials of a good presentation that connects with the audience.

Your presentation needs a good structure

There are many different forms of communication. A written letter. A phone call. A technical paper. A song. A joke. A movie. A presentation. Each of these, when done well, connects. They each use a different medium like paper, speakers or film. And they take on different forms like text, voice, drawings or moving images. Most importantly, they’re built on an effective structure for their intended use.

For example, a letter has an opening and closing salutation and one or more paragraphs. A stand up joke has a set up, some description in the middle, and a punch line. A movie has a 3-act structure.

The structure is the most important aspect in delivering the content. You can’t tell the joke’s punchline first. You don’t say goodbye when answering the phone.

The structure, or ordering of content, helps the communication connect.So what is the structure of a business presentation that connects? It is a modified version of the hero’s journey.

The story flows roughly like this

1. Introduce the customer and their goal

2. Showcase the challenges that prevent them from reaching their goal

3. Share a strategy or solution that addresses those challenges

4. Demonstrate how the customer and your company benefits if you pursue this solution

5. Show how both parties suffer consequences if you don’t pursue it

6. Call the audience to action


Download the 1-page summary

We've summarized the story structure outlined in this article in a handy one-pager. Download for easy reference and to share with your team.

Each piece plays an important role

1. Introduce the hero of your story, your customer

Just like any of the communications forms earlier, your presentation won’t connect if you start off with the wrong topic.

It’s tempting to start with a statement of the problem, or the project’s goals, or with the opportunity you see.

Resist the urge. These are all being suggested by your rational mind. But they don’t help the audience connect with your presentation.

It’s best to start with a person the audience can relate to.

In business, that is most often the customer.

Not just because “the customer is king”, but because business value is created from what customers value. If it is an internal project, focus on the “internal customer” who is served by the solution you’re proposing.

This is one of the reasons why great ethnographic research is so important! Understanding the challenges your customers face in trying to achieve their goals is central to serving them well.

When you start your presentation, start with one of your customers. Introduce them. Talk a little about their business, what they’ve achieved, and what their ambition is.


2. Share the challenges your hero faces in achieving their goal

So you started by portraying your customer and the great things they are doing. You’ve shown examples of their daily life and accomplishments. You told one or more stories from your research.

Your audience can now relate to them. Your audience can understand them. Your audience may even start rooting for them.

But it turns out your customer (the Hero!) is struggling to achieve their goals. There are challenges standing in their way.

In movies, this is what creates the shift from the first act to the second. It’s called an inciting incident.

In an example from a recent client, their customer couldn’t access health care for workplace injuries. The facility’s hours, the amount of paperwork involved, and lack of key account data were huge barriers! To make things worse, the customer would then receive emergency room bills for thousands of dollars more than what the care should have cost.

Obviously that’s not a good situation. The team starting asking: Why aren’t we meeting this customer’s needs? Thank goodness we haven’t lost them yet. Can’t we do something?

3. Recommend a strategy or solution direction to pursue

You have now successfully opened your audience’s desire to address the challenges your customer faces. Now is the time to share directions you think should be pursued.And here’s the secret to presenting solutions.

Don’t present solutions as “the only way” to move forward. Instead, present them as promising directions to pursue.

Be honest with your audience that everything isn’t worked out yet. You’re not looking for approval of a solution, but the encouragement to move forward and shape the solution to be successful!

From the healthcare example above, the team suggested looking at a variety of options

-How urgent care clinic hours could be extended-How a software application at the customer site could minimize paperwork

-How the hospital could help the customer manage their employees overall health — not just when they get injured.

Presenting a direction should feel like an interesting journey to pursue! It shouldn’t feel like a go/no go situation. It should arouse curiosity in the audience about how you will proceed with the work and what might come out of it.


4. Describe the benefits of successfully solving the customer’s needs

Even though you do not have everything figured out, now is the time to share the benefits of being successful.

So show how your the customer will be able to achieve their objective and how their life will be better.

Address how your customer will achieve their goals with your new solution. “Extending hours and providing live account and care data for our customers will increase employee productivity and reduce downtime. We will also eliminate the cash flow shocks their business sees from emergency room bills. These have caused more than one customer to leave us.”

5. Next, share the impact of that success on your business.

“If we are able to help our customers manage the health of their employees, we will be the preferred occupational health provider. Being the preferred provider will allow us to win more employer accounts and improve the health of many in our community. And the latest HBR issue on healthcare noted that being a preferred provider is worth ten percentage points of market share.”

The benefits should be realistic, and conveyed in human terms followed by business metrics. Businesses grow from customer preference and choice. Business metrics follow.Now, talk about the consequences of not pursuing the solution

What if you aren’t able to solve these customer challenges? Or worse, what if this work isn’t continued?

You need to talk about the risks and negative impact on the business if the solution is not pursued. Portray the struggle your customers will face. Mention that competitors could very well address the challenges first. That could result in market share loss instead of a gain.

This negative side plays a very important role in your presentation. People do not like loss. People find ways to avoid negative consequences much more than pursue positive ones. So mentioning the possible losses increase the connection of your audience to the solution.

You shouldn’t exaggerate the risks involved in not taking action. They should be believable and related to the challenges that you communicated earlier.

6. Finally, make a call to action!

Excellent! You’ve done a great job portraying the customer’s life, their goals and your company’s role in helping them achieve success.

But your job isn’t done yet. It’s time to call your audience to action.

They are ready to support your effort and you should have tacit approval. So don’t disappoint with a stale ending and a hope for compliments and approval.

Instead, cover 3 to 5 specific ways the audience could support the effort.

Perhaps share the need for access to ongoing resources or to eliminate organizational barriers. You might need to be put on the official project roadmap or present to a more influential team. Perhaps the project needs investment.

Whatever you do, don’t lose the benefit of having made a strong presentation! Ask for specific kinds of support from your audience.

Start making more compelling business presentations

If you are really going to be a more effective business professional, you need to communicate ideas and strategies in a more compelling manner. As a start, realize that all compelling forms of communication, from movies to stand up jokes, have a specific structure. The structure is there for your content to unfold in a way that resonates with people–with your audience.

A business presentation of a strategy or solution direction has a specific structure as well. 

Utilize these six components to tell an engaging story

1.Introduce the customer and their goal

2. Showcase the challenges that prevent them from reaching their goal

3. Share a strategy or solution that addresses those challenges

4. Demonstrate how the customer and your company benefits if you pursue this solution

5. Show how both parties suffer consequences if you don’t pursue it

6. Call the audience to action. 

While it may seem formulaic, the art remains in the actual content you convey through this structure. Do you really know your customer? Can you convey their aspirations and challenges? Is your solution a good answer to their challenges? Would it provide benefit to your organization?

If you have all the pieces and deliver them in a better structure, you will be able to take your communication skills to a whole new level.

Give it a try and let us know how it goes!


About Chris Conley

Chris was a founding partner of Gravitytank, an innovation firm that joined Salesforce in 2016.  A former tenured professor at IIT's Institute of Design in Chicago, he is now an innovator-at-large.

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