Your presentations will drive your success.

In virtually every organization, if you put together logical, compelling recommendations, people will support your ideas. If you can persuade people to support your ideas, you will have an impact. Maybe more important, people will think you are smart, strategic and a good leader.

When getting ready for a presentation, many people are quick to get busy creating pages. They track down the related information, analyze the data and develop compelling visuals. All of this gives the impression of progress.

Unfortunately, this approach usually results in dull, cluttered, unfocused advice. There is so much information to process that simply pulling it together just leaves you with a massive pile of data.

To do better presentations, it is useful to begin by thinking about your audience. Start by identifying the most important person in the room. There will always be a most important person. If the CEO will be present, it will probably be the CEO. If you are presenting a proposal to a financial group, the most important might be the CFO.

Once you've identified this person, ask yourself these three questions.

1. What are their preferences?

Everyone has certain preferences when it comes to presentations. Some people like short presentations, and some people like longer presentations. Some folks like to see data, others prefer seeing concepts. I used to work at Kraft Foods, and at one point worked for a manager who hated pages that had builds, where one point at a time would appear on the screen.

If you understand your audience's preferences, you can create a presentation they will like. In general, you always want to respect their preferences. Remember, your goal is to sell a recommendation and gain support. You want to create positive feelings; incorporating your target's preferences is a good way to do this.

2. What are their perceptions?

Every good story has a beginning; it starts somewhere. So before you create a presentation, you have to identify the starting point. A good way to do this is to consider your audience's perceptions. What do they know? What do they think?

If you are presenting to someone that knows a lot about your project, you don't have to spend a lot of time on background; you can just get right into the latest information. If your audience doesn't know much about the project, however, you have to take a very different approach. You have to start at the beginning.

It is also useful to consider how they feel about the project. If your audience is supportive and enthusiastic, you can write one type of presentation. If they are skeptical or even opposed to your project, you will need to take a very different approach.

3. What are their priorities?

Marketing is the process of connecting products and services to customer needs, wants and desires. Selling a recommendation is a marketing task.

Before creating a presentation, then, it is useful to consider your target's priorities. What are they worried about? What are they focused on? Speaker and coach Tony Robbins embraces this approach. He explains "My first thing in preparing for a presentation is you've got to know your audience and what their deepest needs are, their deepest desires, and their deepest concerns. That's more important than anything else." 

If your recommendation helps the CEO achieve her goals, she is more likely to support it. If the plan makes achieving the goals more difficult, you have a much more challenging task ahead. When writing a recommendation, you want to emphasize how it links to the broader goals. Doing this will maximize your odds of success.

Remember that a presentation is for a person. You don't create a presentation just to create a presentation; you create it for an individual. Before you start working on your next presentation, identify your target and then consider their preferences, perceptions and priorities. If you do this, you will be able to relate to your audience and your presentation will be more more impactful and likely to be approved.

Published on: Feb 7, 2019
The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of