“True genius is making it as simple as possible… and no simpler” – Albert Einstein

When did business presentations become so boring? And perhaps more importantly, why?

It’s certainly not for lack of trying. Many well-meaning executives have botched their chance to get a compelling story across in a way that gets their message heard. One that provides fresh insight into age-old problems. One that gets people riled up (hopefully in a good way!). One that inspires a rallying cry toward opportunity and action.

Yet great ideas become buried. Key takeaways get lost. Recommendations stall out on the conference room table.

We’ve all tried to make it easier to build presentations by moving to standard templates and presentation-building software. We’ve built Library of Congress-sized shrines to house the perfect mix of legally approved message points and imagery. We’ve learned that 15 bullets on a page is a lot less effective than a great visual that ties a story together.

Despite these advancements toward making presentation building simpler, many of us are still feeling the burn of an unclear story. Information over- or underload and spending too much time worrying about the “what” – format, length, logistics, due dates – before answering the story’s “why” and “how” are symptoms of this predicament. Ask yourself before you get started:

Why does my story matter?

How will it inspire new ways of thinking or acting?

If you’re not sure, then it’s time to architect your (story) blueprint. Think of the blueprint as a custom house you’re about to build. You wouldn’t dream of hanging artwork before you know where the kitchen is going. You have to take it step by step to build a house correctly… just like your presentation.

Without a clear blueprint, we’ve found that even the freshest thinking and brightest ideas can turn into a hot mess when you take proverbial “pen to paper.” Muddled ideas and thinking typically beget muddled presentations and proposals, which leads me to these Big 5 Steps to building a winning executive presentation.

Don’t skip a step, and follow in this order:

  1. START WITH THE END IN MIND. This first step forces you to focus on the top 3-5 insights, takeaways and/or actions your audience must understand. What do you need them to walk away with to consider your presentation a success? To show them a better way forward, you need to know what building blocks it will take to get there. Build those 3-5 blocks here, and do not move to step #2 until the blocks of your house are clear, relevant and compelling.
  1. FRAME THE STORY. The framework is the organizing “blueprint” for your story, helping you develop a theme and allowing your story to build. A strong one helps us see a problem clearly or differently and points the reader to your desired conclusion. I’m using a “Big 5” organizing theme for this post. Other popular ones are process-oriented or walk through a day in the life of your reader, end-user or customer. Pick one (just one, though!) and follow it all the way through. If you become stuck, step away and ask: “What exactly am I trying to say? How does this support my 3-5 key points?” Your framework should help those points shine through.
  1. SHOW, DON’T TELL. Our ancestors learned through storytelling, fables and morality plays. A specific, real-world example, case study or anecdote will bring your story to life with more resonance than telling your audience what to feel, do or believe. Use real-world examples and anecdotes to make your presentation less abstract, more relatable, more human. Read more about “Show versus Tell” here
  1. SUBSTANTIATE. Think about your audience’s biggest skeptic, the one who will need some major convincing. They need to see it to believe it, so don’t forget to substantiate your key points with well-researched, relevant evidence, proof points and testimonials. Make sure they’re from reputable sources the audience will be familiar with and trust. Don’t forget to cite sources.
  1. PUNCTUATE, THOUGHTFULLY. As visual creatures, many of us learn best through what we see. More than half of your audience (65%* of learners based on a Forbes 2013 study) prefers seeing versus reading or listening, so intersperse graphics, charts and visuals to punctuate main messages. Think fewer words and more whitespace. Just be careful not to throw too much tinsel on the tree, or else the visuals might be all they remember.

Think you’ve got it? Need to test your story before you go live? Try any of these “sniff” tests:

  • The Campfire Test: Can you tell the story from beginning to end, with no paper, and have somebody follow you? Does it build our case block-by-block? Does it “fit” together logically?
  • The “VIB” Test: Can a very important businessperson (VIB) grasp it quickly by flipping? Or do they have to read (and sometimes re-read) the entire thing to really get it?
  • The Vision Test: Are you sharing a point of view that’s unique? Necessary? Provocative? Critical in helping the audience succeed? Are you inspiring them to listen, understand – and act?
  • The Collaboration Test: What do we want to learn from them? Where do we expect the most feedback? Have you inserted points throughout to pause for dialogue?
  • And Last but Not Least, The Table Stakes Test: Have we directly answered the questions they’ve asked us (or we think they might ask us)? Can you point out where, exactly, throughout your presentation?

Strong story-telling is crucial in helping your presentation stand out in a memorable and resonant way. Follow these steps and you’ll be ready for your very own TED Talk in no time.

If you need help polishing up a critical executive presentation or proposal, or are starting from scratch and not sure where to begin, we can help! Weber Associates provides B2B presentation consulting as well as message clarity, framework-building, copywriting, editing and design services to help you stand out from the pack. We’ve helped leaders in the Fortune 500 develop winning executive communications, strategy and board documents, sales proposals and finalist presentations. We’ll also help you pick the framework that brings your story to life best in whatever format you prefer, from PowerPoint to infographics, Prezi to interactive presentations, full animations and video.

About Weber Associates

Weber Associates is a Columbus, OH based consulting firm. Since 1985, we have blended the creativity of a marketing agency with the analytical rigor of a consultancy to help our clients significantly grow revenues and customer loyalty. People hire us to solve real sales and marketing challenges. To improve their sales process. To grab someone’s attention and selling something. In short, they hire us to make their marketing make more sales.

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