Whether you work for a start-up and are presenting to Angel investors or a big company presenting to the C-suite or Board of Directors, we spend a huge amount of our time making presentations. Often our presentations are intended to drive to a decision.

There is a lot of research out there about "the how" of presentations being critically important and often undervalued in terms of the role it plays in influencing your audience. To that end, there are a lot of tips for how to be an engaging presenter and even what vehicle you should even use for your presentation. Most of us default to Power Point, but it isn't always the best option despite how frequently it is used.

I work with employees at all levels on the fundamentals of presenting with the goal of getting to a decision. When it is all said and done, it is really about structuring a conversation to get you to that decision in a way that doesn't derail off the Yellow Brick road into the Poppy Fields somewhere.

6 Critical Things

What makes an effective presentation?

When it is over, your presentation should accomplish three key things. Decisions have been made. Specific next steps have been identified. And maybe most importantly, you have eliminated the need to hit replay and do it all again in another presentation.

Here are six critical things to do to ensure that all happens:

1. Be focused on the customer and audience

Have you put yourself in the customer's or audience's shoes? Have you considered why they should even be interested in what you are presenting? Do you know what is important to them? And can you articulate what they need or want to know?

Not knowing key customer or audience hot points or critical points of interest can derail even a well thought out presentation.

2. Don't be afraid to tell them the "answer" right up front

There is an old mantra in presenting. Tell them what you are going to tell them. Then tell them. Then tell then what you told them. In other words, tell them the answer up front so that they don't have to go searching for it or wonder about it in their minds while you are presenting to them.

When you fail to give the answer up front, your audience pays less attention to you because they are distracted trying to figure out where you are going with the presentation.

Make it easy for them by telling them exactly where you are going right up front. Then reinforce it again at the end.

3. Give them background information

All too often, insufficient background is provided to the people you are making the presentation to and from whom you need a decision. We may think they already know the context or that we don't have enough time for background. Or we may be so close to the work that we forget what our audience knows and doesn't know.

But this context is critical to help your audience make the decision you want them to. Many decision-making presentations derail simply for lack of background. The audience doesn't know the context in which the decision exists, which often leads to all sorts of interesting but not incredibly useful conversation and debate.

4. Don't avoid talking about risks in your recommendation

One of the biggest problems with presentations isn't that the recommendations are bad. It's not facing the reality that no recommendation is devoid of risks and challenges. Unfortunately, in an interest to drive decisions, presenters don't explicitly call out the risks and challenges of their recommendation for fear that it will nullify their recommendation as valid.

This omission often leads experienced leadership audiences to question the critical thinking (or perceived lack thereof) that went into the recommendation. Make sure that you always identify clearly the risks to your recommendation and how you plan on managing those risks.

5. Show them that you have considered other alternatives

A common mistake is to only present the recommendation you are making. In other words, limit the visibility the audience has to alternatives your considered but ultimately eliminated.

Similar to #4, this again can come across as a lack of critical thinking around problem solving.

As a way of reinforcing the recommendation you are making, it is key to introduce other ways to solve the problem that you decided not to recommend. It may seem counter-intuitive to introduce these into the presentation, but it shows thoroughness and well-constructed thinking.

6. There is an action plan for follow up

This is a simply one. What needs to happen to move things forward? Who needs to do what? And by when?

If you are able to do all of these things, you can control and drive an effective and efficient decision-making presentation without ending up in any strange rabbit holes or even worse, having to come back and do it all again next week.