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Television chef Jamie Oliver - best known as The Naked Chef - is a man on a mission: to convince consumers to pay more attention to what they eat. At a major presentation in Long Beach, Calif., in February, he found a superb way to get his message across.

He used charts to show that diet-related diseases are the major cause of death in the United States and he cited frightening statistics that say obesity accounts for 10 per cent of American health-care costs. But the moment that attendees talked about afterward was when Mr. Oliver tipped over a wheelbarrow filled with sugar cubes. He wanted to demonstrate how much sugar an average elementary school child ingests by drinking flavoured milk.

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Whether you're speaking to an audience of business leaders, addressing a client or leading a staff meeting, you face the same problem as Jamie Oliver: how to convey complex ideas so they will stick in your listeners' minds and encourage them to take action. You have to be both memorable and convincing.

You've probably heard that people in an audience remember only 10 to 20 per cent of what they hear. Add some slides to your talk and retention jumps to about 30 per cent, which explains why business leaders have taken to slideshow-creation programs the way kids lap up sugared drinks.

But as Mr. Oliver's wheelbarrow stunt proved, you don't have to settle for 20 or 30 per cent retention. Forget dull PowerPoint slides filled with bullet points. There's no limit to your ability to hold people's attention if you can engage their imaginations and inspire them with images and ideas that leave them buzzing afterwards.

In her book Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations, design consultant Nancy Duarte talks of adding S.T.A.R. moments to your talks: "Something They'll Always Remember." Ms. Duarte gained prominence for helping Al Gore develop his compelling presentation on climate change, An Inconvenient Truth. From his funny opening line ("I used to be the next president of the United States") and giant photos of the Earth in space, to stark statistics on rising carbon levels and animations showing how global warming could wipe out whole species, Mr. Gore's presentation was filled with S.T.A.R. moments that ultimately inspired an Oscar-winning movie.

Think through your next presentation, and you may spot S.T.A.R. moments of your own. Look for funny stories, especially with surprise endings; anecdotes involving famous people and your industry; graphic statistics that can help people see a situation in a different light; or an emotional story about how your product has changed people's lives.

Without such memorable connections, your presentations may fall on deaf ears—if any ears are still in the room. Guy Cabana, a Montreal-based public speaker and trainer, says that 20 years ago, people would take notes politely when you spoke. Unless you engage them fast, he says, today's audiences are more likely to walk out—or just sit there checking their BlackBerry.

"Whether you're talking for 5 minutes or for 1 hour, the very first thing you have to do is identify the purpose of this meeting or talk," Mr. Cabana says. "Why are they here, and why are you talking to them? What do you want them to do?"

Mr. Cabana recommends a three-part framework for the rest of your presentation:

  • Before going into detail on what you want the group to do, cite three objections that audience members are likely to make. If you want your team to sell more, for instance, mention the current slow market, recent quality problems or shortcomings in distribution. By acknowledging these realities, you gain greater audience willingness to hear you out.
  • As you discuss what actions you expect your audience to take, mention three solutions that will help them. You might refer to recent product upgrades, a more generous commission system or new types of flavoured milk without added sugar.
  • In your conclusion, let your audience know their mission will require effort. Win their buy-in by saying, "We cannot succeed in this without passion (or discipline or renewed commitment)"—anything that speaks to the conviction that will be needed to win.

With today's more aware audiences, says Mr. Cabana, you can't coerce people. You can't tell them what to do. But if you learn to hold their attention and stress shared interests, you can still become a podium hero.

Content in this section is provided in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC provides entrepreneurs with financing, venture capital and consulting services. To find out more go to BDC.ca.

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