The Power of a Presentation

How to create captivating meeting presentations

These days, business presentations often prove lethal to ideas. How many presentations have you sat through where slide after slide was packed with text and gaudy graphics; where the presenter was droning on, reading directly off slides?

The good news is that by following a few key principles, a presentation can be exponentially more effective. Here's how.

1. Know your audience. Take the time to get inside the minds of your audience. What keeps them up at night, both professionally and personally? What will they be worrying about at the time of your talk (maybe they're more concerned about what to have for lunch)?

I once had the opportunity to speak to a beer company, but I knew nothing about beer (I'm more of a wine gal). So, I hosted a beer tasting at my firm so I could try different kinds of beer and absorb wisdom from my colleagues on the subject (many creatives do love a good craft brew). Your audience is more likely to be engaged and believe you if you've made efforts like this to understand them. Otherwise, you're just a traveling salesman coming through their office.

The audience is the hero, NOT the presenter, and certainly not the presenter's slides. After all, your audience is the agent, the entity that's being asked to do all the work you're describing. They need to internalize your vision and really believe it themselves if they're ever going to do the things you're suggesting.

2. Choose the right format. Maybe you'll need to use PowerPoint, or maybe you only need a whiteboard. Don't just choose a format because it's what everyone else is doing. I recognize that this can be difficult in corporate environments when certain communication vehicles are expected. But no matter what format you choose, let the medium support your main message.

Outline and storyboard your presentation on sticky notes before you even touch PowerPoint. This not only makes for a better presentation because it brings the human dimension back to presenting, it also prepares you for technical hiccups that could occur. What if the projector breaks and you can't use slides at all?

Even the dazzling communicator Steve Jobs rehearsed his talks down to the last detail. Give your talk beforehand to a group of people you trust who will give you honest feedback.

3. Tell a story. Great stories contain contrast, created through cycles of tension and release that keep an audience on the edge of their seats, fluctuating from struggle to bliss and back. After studying hundreds of historic speeches, I discovered that the backbone of great talks is a "What Is"/"What Could Be" framework.

For example, speaking of Steve Jobs, his 2007 iPhone presentation begins with him talking about the way technology is today before he then launches into what it could be and how the new iPhone ushers in this new era.

Build these principles into your routine in preparing presentations. They can also apply to any kind of communication, from a Monday morning meeting to an email to your team to a discussion with your spouse about finances. Use these principles to develop your ideas into a memorable reality.