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Back to Basics: quick and easy ways to develop a great presentation; Part 1: five basic requirements of a presentation.

Give your audience a single, useful message that they will remember.

What are the keys to an effective presentation? Surprisingly, what people think they must do to "wow" their audience differs sharply from what audience members want. People in our courses always say their goals are to be witty, entertaining, authoritative, and versatile with PowerPoint fireworks. Yet, according to published surveys and our own questionnaires, audiences have five basic requirements for a business presentation:

1. Focus on a single, relevant message.

2. Support this message with convincing evidence.

3. Organize your information into digestible chunks.

4. Articulate--loudly, clearly, and with enthusiasm.

5. Cut back on your visuals.

Notice that the audience does not want to be entertained, impressed, or visually dazzled. So, presenters, your first step to success is to throw out those faulty preconceptions. In fact, copy that list of audience requirements and paste it wherever you'll see it when you need it. It applies to any type of presentation you give--formal or informal, technical or non-technical, prepared or off-the-cuff.


Here are some quick and easy ways to fulfill the first requirement: focus your presentation on a single, relevant message.

Two days after your presentation, your audience will remember one main point you made. If you didn't deliver and reinforce one clear, relevant message, they won't remember anything.

To find your main message, ask: "If I could tell my audience only one thing, in one sentence, what would it be?" Write the answer down; it's your trial main message. It doesn't have to be perfect; you'll refine it later. "We must pay more attention to details in safety." "Although revenues were down this quarter, our expanding market share should lead to rising profit margins by year-end."


Now consider the relevance of your statement to your particular audience. When you announce it, will they sit up with interest? Or will they yawn? Yawns follow a message they've heard often before (a mill crew hearing the foreman announce they must pay more attention to details in safety), or one that has little bearing on their daily lives (that same crew addressed by the CFO on revenues, market share, and profit margins).

In such cases, how do you make your message relevant? One way is to show your listeners how it affects them. Precede your message with an "attention getter" that relates your message, as powerfully as possible, to their daily work and lives.

The foreman could begin his talk with a gruesome incident of a mill accident caused by lack of attention to a small detail. Suddenly, the familiar topic of safety becomes personal, relevant, even deadly.

A more radical solution is to change your main message altogether. The CFO will never capture that audience with financial gobbledygook. That presenter's job is to figure out how the company's performance relates to them. "The XYZ product, which you produce in this mill, is right now the key to our company's success." Then, if possible, the CFO should show the mill workers how they can benefit from this success and what they must do to ensure it continues.

Think of what you would tell your listeners if you had just one sentence. Write it down. Check for relevance to them. Add an attention getter or change your message to fit the listeners. You'll have the cornerstone of your whole presentation.


We'll look at ways to fulfill the other four requirements in following columns. The Back to Basics writing guides will be continued after that.


Cheryl and Peter Reimold have been teaching communication skills to engineers, scientists, and businesspeople for 20 years. Their latest book, The Short Road to Great Presentations (Wiley, 2003), is available in bookstores and from Their consulting firm, PERC Communications (telephone: +1 914 725 1024, e-mail, offers businesses consulting and writing services, as well as customized in-house courses on writing, presentation skills, and on-the-job communication skills. Visit their web site at

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Author:Reimold, Peter
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Date:Aug 1, 2005
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