Microsoft Chief Product Officer, Panos Panay, unveiled new products on Wednesday that generated a lot of buzz. The products including Surface tablets, laptops and the company's new smartphone, the Surface Duo. But it was the first five minutes of the presentation that caught my attention.

Last year Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella put Panay in charge of all the company's hardware devices. Panay's also one of the best presenters I've seen in years--in any company. Panay used four advanced storytelling, presentation and speaking techniques that will make you a more effective communicator. Here, I'll take a deeper look at what he did.

1. Don't start with products.

People don't buy products; they buy feelings. The best presenters establish a feeling before explaining a product's features and demos. Panay established the theme of his presentation in the first two minutes. He showed a video of his daughter, Sophia, playing the piano. He said,

"In order for Sophia to play her best, that piano has to be ready. It has to be tuned perfectly. The bench has to be the right height, her sheet music at eye level."

Panay was making the point that when the instrument--the technology-- is right, it allows Sophia to unleash her creative talent. "When all the pieces line up, you can stop thinking. You're just inspired to play better." Panay has just made an emotional connection with the audience and framed the products as much more than new hardware--they're instruments to help them unleash their inspired creativity. 

2. Tell customer stories.

Panay's first slides showed photos of several people--real customers with inspiring stories. For example, he showed a picture of Steve Gleason, a former professional football player diagnosed with ALS. Gleason is an advocate for Microsoft's products that help people living with disabilities. Another photo showed Collete Davis, a race-car driver who runs her career like a startup--using Microsoft hardware, of course.

As humans, we're wired for stories. We think in story, talk about stories, and enjoy information delivered in narrative form. Tell more stories to win people over.

3. Use multimedia to engage the audience.

Stories are engaging, as are photos and videos. We are not wired to engage with text and bullet points on slide. And that's why there were no bullet points in Panay's presentation. In fact, the first slide with text appeared ten minutes into the presentation--and even then, it was only one sentence.

Most presenters don't use video, but they should. People love video. Research shows that videos and images are far more engaging than text alone. But communicators are often reluctant to insert videos into their presentations as Panay did when she showed his daughter playing piano.

Neuroscientists have found that visual and verbal information are encoded in different parts of our brain. University of Washington molecular biologist, John Medina, has addressed the phenomenon in his research. Simply put, Information that's presented in text, pictures and video for is more richly encoded. Adding a video is more likely to stamp your idea on another person's brain.

4. Connect with the audience.

Panay uses a speaking style that requires confidence and practice. You can see him in action in the video of the event. From time to time, Panay steps off the stage and walks among the audience members as he delivers information about the products. He's not relying on notes or a prompter as he does so. Panay hits his marks and makes it look effortless because he's put in the practice time to make the presentation great.

Delivering a great presentation doesn't come naturally to most people. Presentations that leave a strong impression on the audience requires creativity and practice. When you get access to an expert like Panos Panay, it's worth investing the time to watch his performance. 

Published on: Oct 4, 2019
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