The Compelling Presentation

5-minute read

We all need others to do what we want sometimes: give me the job; sign off on the deal; lend me a fiver; do it my way. We present our case formally or informally, with an audience of one or many. It can be high-stakes and it can be daunting. The great news is that there are no mysteries to giving a persuasive presentation. You don't need to be born with a silver tongue and silky sales skills. You just need to plan effectively and rehearse your delivery as outlined below. Follow these tips and your audiences will greet your every recommendation with agreement.


First, plan your presentation. Plan: refrain from opening Powerpoint just yet.

Take a piece of paper and note down your thoughts along the following lines:

  • What do I know about the audience?
  • What do they care about?|
  • What's their level of knowledge on this subject?
  • What's their style - formal, friendly, short attention span, ego-centric?

The more you are familiar with the audience, the better you are able to position your messages to be persuasive and relevant. For the audience, relevance to their needs will keep them listening, so your effort to understand the audience increases their likely level of engagement with you.

"For the audience, relevance to their needs will keep them listening, so your effort to understand the audience increases their likely level of engagement with you."

Next, plan the end of the presentation. What question can you imagine asking at the close, when you have built a case for your recommendation? So… Will you marry me? …Are you happy to proceed as I've outlined?… Do you want to use my pen or yours? (cheesy sales technique!). You are defining the presentation's destination - which helps a lot with route planning. You are also setting yourself up to ask for a decision, the one thing modest British presenters often find difficult to do at the end of their carefully-crafted and compelling presentation. So get ready to do just that by starting with your end in mind.

"You can't bore someone into buying something, you can only interest them in buying something." – David Ogilvy

When you plan what to say, focus on making it both relevant and persuasive. If it's relevant, people will listen (see above) and if it's persuasive, they will believe you. So first, consciously decide what information you don't need to include. Next take the main points you want to make and turn them into persuasive messages by (i) stating the point out loud (ii) explaining what the implication or benefit of it is, and (iii) adding the evidence to prove that this benefit/implication is likely to be true. This evidence could be anecdotal or factual, case studies, statistics, a demonstration, a powerful visual, testimonials… Add whatever evidence you think works, and enough of it to convince.

If your arguments seem a bit skimpy, consider factoring in some of Prof. R. Cialdini's 'Weapons of Influence': social proof (everyone's doing it); scarcity (last/only chance); reciprocity (you owe me); consistency (you supported this idea before); liking (for me, please...); authority (expertise).

The next step is to consider the structure of your presentation for optimum impact. Where is the right place to put your recommendation? Sometimes you'll need to build a case gradually before peaking with its (by then) obvious call to action; sometimes you will want to hit the audience with the recommendation at the outset, then explain. The approach you choose will depend on the audience's style, how much time you have and perhaps how confident you feel of the response. The first approach gives you flexibility to modify the recommendation as you gauge audience feedback during your pitch.


People often balk at rehearsing and will curiously run out of time before they are ready to rehearse. But you are not ready until you have rehearsed! The rehearsals get it 'into your skin' so that you will speak with certainty and conviction – essential if you want to influence your audience.

"As you rehearse your persuasive presentation, think carefully about the language you are using."

As you rehearse your persuasive presentation, think carefully about the language you are using. Remove 'filler' language – really, hopefully, obviously, er, um, etc, and so on - and aim for positive, confident words in real sentences. You will avoid waffling and sound authoritative. The voice is important for authority, so breathe deeply to gain resonance. A few deep breaths before you begin will relieve nerves, and by using pauses to breathe during the presentation you will add gravitas and confidence, as well as giving you and your audience important time to think.

As you project your voice, so too you will project and communicate with your eye contact. Practice so that you are comfortable with having eye contact with individuals, holding the contact for as long as a phrase or sentence lasts. Stand comfortably, well-grounded on both feet and be aware of your hands – they should be loosely positioned in front of you or at your sides so that you can gesture naturally. You create the impression of a confident speaker by removing potential distractions, so letting your persuasive messages unfold loud and clear to your audience.

You don't need to be a perfect presenter: enthusiasm, conviction, and your genuine intention to help the audience make the right decision are the key factors that form a compelling wrapper around your persuasive messages. And be sure to ask that closing question!


Hilary Fraser