7 steps for sizzling presentations

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Whether you are preparing to deliver an educational workshop to a full room or fine-tuning your pitch for a one-on-one prospect discussion, the reality is that what you say and how you say it can make or break client existing relationships and the prospect of adding new ones.

In a world where more and more is competing for our collective attention, the opportunity for quality face time is increasingly limited. So, before you lose your audience to surfing on their mobile phones during your next presentation, consider these seven steps to make your presentation sizzle:

1. Hit your mark. You’ve already welcomed participants to your presentation through a written invitation or phone call. Don’t ruin your chance to make a great first impression by doing it again. The first 15 seconds are your opportunity to hook the audience and get them focused on the great discussion you’re about to deliver. You can grab their attention in several ways:

  • Share a disconcerting fact or quote such as: “50 percent of you won’t have enough to retire with the same lifestyle you enjoy today.”
  • Ask a question directly related to your topic that will get them thinking, “How does this affect me and what will I gain from listening?”
  • Relate a personal anecdote. A powerful story that can be told in 30 seconds or less can frame your talk and build rapport.
  • Focus on a single takeaway. Tell the audience the most important point they will learn, such as: “If you remember only one thing from this talk today, it’s that bonds aren’t as safe as you think.”

These approaches will not only work as an introduction, you can also use them to change gears during your presentation or jumpstart a discussion that has gotten bogged down.

2. Know your audience. The #1 rule of writing and public speaking is know your audience. Why are they in the room? What were they told the presentation would cover? If your topic is centered around the outlook for investments in the coming year, you might find that you lose your audience if you slip into sidebar discussions on legislative changes, commentary on recent political noise, or if you spew forth granular details about how the current market environment mirrors the markets of the 1920s.

3. Show and tell. Show and tell isn’t just for a kindergarten classroom. Having key supporting data, charts, and pictures that illustrate your points can go a long way towards making the difference between your audience slumping in their seats and being on the edge of them. For example, if you are discussing the pros and cons of individual bonds versus bond funds, a chart that demonstrates the impact of interest rate changes is a far more effective way to communicate what is an important, but cumbersome, topic for many investors.

4. If you want to move your audience, then MOVE. Want to add vibrancy to your presentation delivery? Get out from behind the podium and move to engage your audience. The motion will not only calm nerves, but it makes it easier and more natural to engage with audience members and convey enthusiasm for the subject — think Jim Cramer and “Mad Money.” Make eye contact with one individual at a time for 10 seconds or less, and then move on to someone else. This one-on-one engagement will increase trust and believability and make each participant think you are speaking directly to them.

5. A pause that refreshes. Public speakers tend to speed up when they’re nervous. As you can see during the Hollywood awards season, even professional actors can fall victim to the nerve-induced speech acceleration. The audience might disengage from your message and become distracted by the speed of your delivery. The effective circuit breaker is to pause. A well-timed pause can reduce the tendency to ramble, cut down on those awkward “ums,” “ers,” and “you knows” that enter the discussion, and give you time to collect your thoughts before moving on. Pauses also allow your audience to keep up and digest what you just said. Pauses are your friend; use them liberally.

6. Close with a call to action. You went to the trouble of marketing the presentation and spent countless hours practicing your delivery, but without adequate follow up, all of your efforts end when your talk does. You can extend the value of your message, deepen relationships, and even close business by ending your presentation with a call to action. Provide a handout of your key points, offer a video or audio file on a flash drive that attendees can replay at their convenience, or direct them to a microsite or your LinkedIn profile for further information. Give them a reason to connect with you and stay connected.

7. Practice how you will say it, not just what you will say. The best presentations result from hours of practice and preparation. Practice will instill confidence and spontaneity that will enable you to own the room. But it has to be the right type of practice. Don’t memorize lines or read from a script — simply rehearse from bullet points. Presentation coaches say that you can tell whether your preparation is working or not if each rehearsal sounds a bit different. You don’t want to sound like an automaton. Instead let your personality come alive.

Mark Matson, founder and CEO of Matson Money, Inc., is one strong example of how a financial services professional delivers an effective presentation.  Play the video clip below to see Mark in action delivering his Mind over Money presentation at a recent conference in Colorado.