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Communicating with impact: Presentations that influence

23 August 2017

News and media


There’s a certain process for developing a presentation, and it goes something like this:

Step 1: Figure out what your main point is; e.g. the message that you want to get across to your audience

Step 2: Decide on several supporting points that will assist you in delivering that main message

Step 3: Gather research that will help you develop those supporting points

Step 4: Write a talk based on the above and transpose key points to PowerPoint or go straight to PowerPoint, capturing all the key bits of information / data

Step 5: Support your presentation with graphs, charts, and graphics

Step 6: Revise until you think you have something logical

Step 7: Get out your stop watch and practice going through your talk until you sound professional within your allotted time.

Sound familiar?

Whether explicit or implicit, this is the process we tend to turn to – it’s the process we’ve been taught. It is what we were told to use for that first book report; it is the process we continued to develop all through high school; and it is the process that served us well while at university.

The question at hand, is whether this is the most effective process for developing a presentation as a professional.

Now if your singular goal in your professional presentation is imparting information, then this is a pretty strong process. But I would argue that when you are giving a presentation as a professional, you are doing, or should be doing, much more than imparting information. You should be working in the arena of influence.

After all, think about it. We live in an information age. There is now very little knowledge that an individual holds that cannot be Googled. Whether it’s on the internet or the intranet, information is at our fingertips. So, if it’s not information, what is the purpose of a face-to-face communication opportunity, such as a presentation?

Well, I’d argue it’s to influence, to motivate, to persuade, to instigate action. Whether it be trying to get your audience to adopt a new policy position, sway colleagues to support your idea, convince stakeholders of the merits of a project, we are in the business of influence.

Now if you accept this premise, the standard process for developing a presentation falls short. When we are attempting to exert influence or motivate an audience to action, we need to rethink what we know about preparing the humble presentation.

The key?

Well, in order to move yourself from “What do I want to share with my audience?” to “What do I want my audience to think, feel or do differently based on my presentation?”, there needs to be a shift in focus. You need to move from “What do I want to say?” to “What I want them to do?”; i.e.) rather than telling your audience about the new policy, you are trying to get that audience to support a new policy. Rather than explain the new procedure, you want your audience to be on board with implementing it.

It is this seemingly small, yet critical, shift that will lead your presentation development down a completely different path. You will now need to:

Step 1: Decide on your audience-related objective. What you want your audience to do, feel or think differently about based on your presentation

Step 2: Find out what you can about the audience (after all, if you’re trying to convince your audience of something, you really need to have your head around who they are and where they are in relation to your agenda)

Step 3: Decide on the messages that will help you move your audience from where they are to where you want them to be

Step 4: Consider all the strategies and mediums that will help along this journey (images, graphics, videos, stories, data, etc.)

Step 5: Develop your presentation as perhaps a PowerPoint, a role play, a story, an anecdote, an activity, etc. Your options have become much broader

Step 6: Consider how you will present yourself; how you will develop trust with the audience. When you are after influence, your presentation becomes as much about you and your perceived ability to lead, then it does about the particulars of message

Step 7: Practice. But rather than practice speaking, you will need to practice talking, conversing, convincing, all while being your most relatable self

Sound tricky? Well, yes, it can sound intimidating. After all, it’s new. But if you think about, this is nothing more than transposing your everyday skills into the workplace. We spend many hours in our personal lives trying to influence others…to convince our children to clean their rooms; to get our partners to do their share; to get our friends to go away on holiday with us. And we do this by inherently utilising the process above. We know what we want our audience to do and, because we know that audience, we also know what messages, what arguments, and what modes of delivery are most likely to get us the outcomes we want.

The same is applicable in the professional arena. The skills you learned for developing presentations, while right for imparting information, fall short in the influence game. Knowing what you want your audience to do; knowing that audience; and strategically maneuvering your audience from A to B is key. This may be a new set of professional skills, but it is a set well worth developing.

These findings and other resources to take your communication to the next level will be available in Dr Zina O’Leary’s upcoming book Presentations that Motivate: Inspiring an Audience to Action. Zina will be delivering her two-day workshop Communicate for Impact and Influence for public sector leaders in Canberra on 26-27 September 2017.

This article was originally published in Women’s Agenda