Presentations that Persuade in 20 Minutes or Less
If ideas are the currency of twenty-first century business professionals, then their presentations must persuade action. Unfortunately, many fall short.
Presentations are critical, yet we too often focus on how slides look or where to stand on stage. Worse, we are prone to pack them with data, charts and graphics for fear of leaving information out. The result is often audience fatigue, information overload, and little chance of inspiring anyone to take action.
Communication experts know that shorter presentations are more effective, pointing to the revolutionary success of 18-minute TED Talks as evidence. TED Talks have redefined the elements of a successful presentation and become the gold standard for public speaking.
“TED presentations change the way people see the world and they are springboards to launch movements in the areas of art, design, business, education, health, science, technology, and global issues.” Carmine Gallo, Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2015
Even if you don’t aspire to be invited to give a TED talk, you can benefit from learning to sell yourself and your ideas persuasively. As author and communication expert Daniel Pink notes in To Sell Is Human, “Like it or not, we’re all in sales now.”
Presentations matter because they are a major way we sell products and services, find investors, establish trust and credibility, and gain support for new ideas. But ideas are only as good as the actions that follow the communication of those ideas.
What Makes Presentation Persuasive?
Although visuals and delivery matter, the ability to present novel content that makes an emotional connection is at the heart of whether a presentation inspires action or not. Leave out one of these three elements – emotional, novel, memorable – and you won’t persuade anybody to do anything and you won’t get the results you want.
- 1. Emotional
Most professionals tend to focus on the “what” and “how” of their information. But effective presentations appeal to both the head and the heart. Masterful speakers show their true passions. They use stories to help listeners emotionally attach to the topic. They show “why” this information matters.
Research from neuroscience reveals that stories sync minds and create connections with people. These connections are enhanced when a speaker has congruent body language and nonverbal behaviours that are conversational. Instead of delivering a speech, great speakers converse with their listeners.
Of course, a lot of practice is required for anyone who strives for a more comfortable and natural impact. Masterful speakers may rehearse up to 200 times in preparation.
- 2. Novel
Presenting information in a unique way captures a person’s attention. Neuroscience reveals that novelty is required in order for a listener to recall the speech later on.
The brain can’t ignore unusual information. Speakers must find a way to grab the audience’s attention with “jaw-dropping” or “wow” moments. The skillful use of visuals, video, and genuine humour can help.
- 3. Memorable
If the audience can’t remember what you said, your ideas don’t matter. You can present truly game-changing information but unless it is delivered in a way that is emotional and novel, your audience won’t pay attention and won’t remember it.
Scientists have known for a long time that what gets remembered are events that happen during significantly emotional times. We remember what we were doing at the time of the 9/11 attacks. It’s hard to create emotional events during a business presentation, but you can connect the audience to multi-sensory experiences that deliver dry data in meaningful ways such as graphics and analogies that relate to everyday experiences.
Why Shorter is Better
In the last ten years we’ve learned more about the brain and how it processes information than ever before. There is a reason why 18-minutes is the ideal length of time to get your point across.
The brain works hard to process information and in doing so uses up reserves of glucose. Brain cells need twice as much energy as other cells in the body. If you don’t make a powerful argument and attract people’s attention in under 18 minutes, you risk losing them to fatigue. Too much information prevents the successful transmission of ideas.
Cognitive processing – thinking, speaking, and listening – are physically demanding activities. As the brain takes in new information, millions of neurons are firing at once, burning energy, causing fatigue. There’s not much left to transfer information from working memory to short-term memory, and none left to share it with others and transfer to long-term memory.
If people don’t talk about your ideas afterwards, don’t expect them to remember or act on them either.
3 Steps to Craft a Message Map
According to author Carmine Gallo, a message map is the visual display of your idea on one page. Building a message map can help you pitch anything in as little as 15 seconds.
Step 1: Create a Twitter-friendly headline. The headline is the overarching message you want your audience to know. Ask yourself, “What is the single most important thing I want my listener to know?” Make sure your headline fits in a Twitter post – no more than 140 characters.
Step 2: Support the headline with three key benefits. The mind can only process about three pieces of information in short-term memory. Outline the three or, at most, four benefits of your product or idea.
Step 3: Reinforce the three benefits with stories, statistics, and examples. Add bullet points to each of the three supporting messages. You don’t have to write out the entire story. Instead write a few words that will prompt you to deliver the story.
A message map can help distill your idea into a presentation that is emotional, novel, memorable and most importantly, persuasive.