7 Keys for Powerfully Persuasive Presenting

The most persuasive stage is the closing—it's the last thing people remember.

I know there's no end to available advice on how to impressively present. Alternately, for persuasively presenting, here are some "secrets" that I've discovered (as in the old martial arts aphorism, "The best secrets keep themselves") that are both critical and not evidently common knowledge.

This is based on my delivering hundreds of presentations—at more than 27 National Safety Congresses; more than a hundred different ASSE, international, and large conferences; 70+ webinars; too numerous corporate keynotes to count; and much more. That doesn't include a large numbers of trainings for line staff, professionals, and Executives. I've also taught presentation skills, written a manual published by ASSE on this topic, and coached senior Executives. And I've seen, as well as done, all kinds of missed presentation opportunities. My personal view is, "I'll try to make a different mistake next time."

From experience, here are 7 keys to presenting to persuade that unlock reluctance and resistance to improving:

1. Starting off, I re-focus on the overriding purpose of each of my presentations, both in planning and delivery. I'm not merely trying to academically impart information or to tell people what to do, nor to show anyone how much I know. I'm always aiming to persuade, to reach people, to ideally help them make more successful decisions, to transfer skills they can't wait to apply to make their lives work safer and better overall.

2. Getting in front of a group is a power-potentiated opportunity to stimulate lasting advances in mindsets and skills. When you think about it, your presentation may only be as brief as 15 minutes—but if you're in front of just 20 people, that's 5 person-hours of possible impact. And that's just the tip; much more than just batching one message to a group, you have the chance to reach them, to angle up their mental and physical trajectory for weeks, even months to come. So in my mind it pays to spend a good deal of preparation time to maximize even a "minimal" quarter hour of presentation contact.

3. I know that the most important parts of a presentation are not what many think, the content in the middle. Sure this may comprise the bulk of the time, but it's not necessarily the part that makes the most impact. Rather, the most persuasive stage is the closing—it's the last thing people remember. Have you ever been to a really good presentation that ended weakly, with the presenter tailing off, looking down or embarrassed or unsure? This lowers energy and weakens the entire message that people. Mark that I'm not a fan of "motivational" presentations of the "You can do it!" type that are like gobbling sugar calories; these might taste good at the time but are nutritionally empty of why you should do something or what to do or how to do it. Remember that the last verbal and nonverbal messages you communicate are what participants best recall and walk away with.

4. The opening is the second most important part of any presentation—how it begins. Do you create an atmosphere of positive expectancy, where participants are looking forward to getting something that they want and can effectively use? So don't begin by apologizing or telling a joke just for the sake of trying on humor that has nothing to do with your underlying message. Everything I say and do during a presentation is to propel participants toward wanting to and knowing how to improve their decisions and actions. These include only including appropriate humor that furthers my messaging.

5. And I do mean "participants" and not "audience." Thinking of people in the former term reminds that they’re there to be mentally and even physically involved, not just to show you awe or appreciation (as does an audience).

6. Even in webinars, my finding ways to engage participants so that they actually, well, participate, is important to activating them to do something different after the presentation. Again, I'm a change agent, not an entertainer. Involvers might include polls, individual exercises and reflectors (such as trying something mentally on), paired practices, demonstrations, and much more. It's critical in any presentation—no matter how many participants—to break the inertia of their sitting mentally and physically passive. If I want them to be doing something after the presentation, I have to have them doing something active during the presentation.

7. Sure, there are presentation techniques that help, from using movement in different ways, employing silence, varying energy (in more or less a sine wave manner), harnessing eye contact even with a very large group, using the best while avoiding turnoff hand gestures—and more. But, as useful as these are, they pale in importance to something else. Ultimately, the combination of showing Concern and making strong Contact are two strands woven into the lifeline guiding a presentation's power to affect people. Banish generic presentations. If you are truly concerned for participants' well-being and safety and if you can tangibly convey this by making strong contact with them, backed by your preparation clearly demonstrating you understand their concerns and obstacles through using their language, referring to their specific work applications and more, you can really move groups of people in ways that last for quite a time.

Bottom line: The most influencing presentations I can make are founded on my: keeping in mind my utmost goals, customizing my presentation to participants' current concerns and to my latest thinking, involving everyone in some ways, making best possible contact in the moment, and offering practical/do-able potential solutions to their vexing problems.

This article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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