You've been tinkering with your slides for hours and you think you've got every detail of your presentation just right - the visuals are understated but compelling, the text minimal, the flow logical. You've double-checked every fact, anticipated likely questions and practiced with a timer. You've even decided what to wear. You're all ready to go out there and knock 'em dead, right?

Not so fast, says professional speaker and author Dorie Clark on the HBR blogs recently. If your presentation really matters - if you absolutely need to persuade your audience of your way of thinking - then there are a few final questions you probably need to ask yourself, she writes. They include:

1. What's the problem you're solving?

Being so immersed in their fields, experts often take the problem for granted. But others (like top stakeholders or members of the general public) might not know why what you're talking about even matters. Make sure you explain that to them before you get into the nitty gritty of your solution.

"If you don't explain the context and why it matters upfront, you risk them tuning out early on because they're not sure if your idea is relevant," cautions Clark.

2. How has this idea been vetted?

You might be the top mind in the world in your field, but your audience is still unlikely to take you at your word that what you're proposing is a stellar idea. You need to prove that your recommendations are resting on more than just your reputation and rhetorical skills.

So forget, "spending five minutes bragging about your past accomplishments," advises Clark. Instead, "highlight evidence of your competence and the seriousness with which you pursued this solution. For instance, it's worth mentioning that your team interviewed 100 leading researchers to identify the best practices you're recommending, or that you ran three pilots to test the concept."

3. Why now?

Humans are creatures of inertia. Because change takes effort, we tend to just keep on doing what we did before, unless we have an outside push. If you're looking to get your audience to change their minds or take action, have you given them a sufficient shove?

"Why is this the moment they should change what's been working? Why do they need to take immediate action? Until you prove to them that the problem is urgent, and will continue to get worse unless you address it, their inclination will be to 'wait and see' or prioritize other things first," warns Clark.

Think her ideas could really improve your next presentation? Then check out her complete post for another three questions, or just steal the secrets of the best TED presenters (or even the guy who runs TED).

Published on: Oct 17, 2016
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