Presentation Skills Hurdles: Hurdle 3 – Strategy

Man presenting on stage

It’s unimaginable to think that any organisation intent on success would not firstly establish a strategic foundation which ensures its advancement, sustainability and prosperity. Having a clear, compelling and concentrated strategy is fundamental to the success of any business regardless of its size or industry.

Many years in the boardroom have taught me that strategy just like presenting and public speaking is both an art and a science. The key difference being that the most effective executives spend time on strategy development every day whilst for the average presenter it’s a concept that is rarely considered.

There are countless books and articles written on ‘strategy’ many of which offer different advice and a great number which make it sound so complex that it’s no wonder so many people find it confusing.

Here is one of my personal favourite definitions:

“What do you want to achieve or avoid? The answers to this question are objectives. How will you go about achieving your desired results? The answer to this you can call strategy.”

William E. Rothschild

For many presenters strategic thinking presents itself as a significant challenge largely created by the former hurdle I wrote about in my previous article: Presentation Skills -The Biggest Hurdles for Presenters – Hurdle 2 – Habit

In other words, if the very first thing you do when called on to present is to turn on the laptop and start typing you are unlikely to create a strategy.

In business as in presenting I’ve met many professionals who operate under the misguided belief that hope is a strategy. I like the idea of hope too and it’s something I subscribe to across many areas of life but I know full well that it’s not a strategy, especially when it comes to the business of presenting.

The most powerful way of ensuring you craft and deliver a high impact presentation which connects you with your audience and brings you both tangible results is to overcome this hurdle and create a robust strategy.

The following 6 thoughts will show you exactly how to jump the strategy hurdle.

1. You need a vision

In the same way that every great business operates under a clear vision, mission and set of values so does every strong presentation.

Whilst a business and a presentation may be entirely different the principles applying to both remain the same.

– A Vision Statement describes the desired future position of the company and does exactly the same for your presentation. When it comes to presenting what will the future look like when you have finished speaking?

– A Mission Statement defines the company’s business, its objectives and how it will go about reaching those objectives. When it comes to presenting you also need to be abundantly clear about your topic, message and objectives and what they are designed to achieve. You also need to understand how you will achieve those objectives.

– A value statement reflects the deeply held values of a company that do not change over time and behaviourally they explain in part how you will meet your objectives. Every presenter needs to hold a clear set of values about their message that will also drive how they craft and deliver their presentation

2. Generic is galling

Personally, I don’t believe there is anything more tedious and annoying than sitting through a presentation that offers nothing more than generalisations. A persuasive presentation has to be strategically designed to be highly specific and completely relevant to the audience. It really isn’t good enough to craft a presentation with the message designed to ‘be the best’, ‘improve communication’, or ‘increase customer satisfaction.

We’ve heard it all before.

What does ‘being the best’ look and feel like and isn’t everyone trying to ‘be the best’?

The strategic starting point for building a presentation of any value is to ensure that every ounce of your content is germane and distinct; that includes avoiding templates.

The inflexible use of templates can stifle individual thought and creativity leaving the presenter to lazily comply with routine corporate culture. The end result of which is often a generic presentation we have all heard before.

3. Don’t just ‘know your audience’ talk to them

A great deal has been written about how important it is to know your audience well before preparing your presentation and rightly so. Apart from telling you to speak with the organizer, look at the company website or check the media I often find that a lack of practical advice is offered.

The best way to get to know your audience is to open up a direct dialogue with them. Whether it’s your senior management team, colleagues, customers or prospective clients the only way you can really understand them is by talking to them.

Here are a few questions I ask:

– Why are you attending the presentation?

– What are the 3 most important things to you about the topic?

– What would you really like to know?

– How can my presentation help you?

Send them an email or call them but you have to talk to them first.

While you are taking the time to really get to know your audience do whatever you can to make certain you are completely up to speed with your industry and market too on the ideas you are presenting.

4. Ask yourself provocative questions

To craft a truly compelling presentation it’s critical that you begin the strategic thinking process by asking yourself some very tough questions first:

– Do you really need to give a presentation and what’s so important that you can’t send an email?

– How will what you have to say significantly help your audience?

– What are all the things you dislike about other presentations you’ve attended and why?

– Why do most presentations fail to influence or inspire action/change?

– Imagine your presentation was huge success in every respect and a month later you asked your audience why; what would they say?

– How well do I understand my audience, if I were them what would I want from me?

– What do you want to achieve or avoid?

– What will it take to achieve your desired results?

– How will you measure success

5. Fresh is foremost

Every great presentation holds at the forefront of its strategy the intention to stand out from the crowd, to challenge the status quo and to be different.

Without it the presentation is likely to be forgotten well before the day ends.

The reason most of us dread sitting through business presentations is simply because they are largely the same. A major element of your thinking and preparation therefore has to be how do you make and keep your approach fresh.

– Listen to Ted Talks at

What better way is there to learn and stimulate personal insight and creativity than watching and listening to some of the best minds around the world in every discipline? TED is an online university of ideas, imagination and talent available to us all. One way of sparking ideas on how to approach your presentations differently is to begin by seeing for yourself how others achieve it.

– Brainstorm

In my experience great ideas don’t just pop into our minds because we instruct our brains to make it so.

It takes work.

Brainstorming is the simple but immensely powerful art of setting your mind free and letting ideas run wild as crazy as they may seem. It’s also very helpful if you do this with others, so do yourself a favour and set aside some time with friends or colleagues to ask yourself how you can bring an entirely fresh approach to a forthcoming presentation.

6. The breath of life

You’ve done your homework and so you understand your audience, you are very clear on what you have to say and why it’s so important for them to hear. As difficult as it was you’ve asked and answered all of the tough questions and have something very specific and relevant to say to your audience.

You’ve also spent several hours watching TED and now you believe you have a fresh approach to your topic, now what.

Now you get to build the strategy which will enable you to bring it life so that your audience, ‘get it’, ‘feel it’ and ‘act on it’

The only way you will achieve that is through now constructing a sophisticated strategy which breathes life into your message through:

– Stories
– Examples in the form of similes, analogies and metaphors
– Drama and surprise
– Vocal variety
– Meaningful movement
– Powerful visual support
– Contrast in the form or media, props and interaction
– Making an emotional connection

None of that happens in isolation, when you have your content it falls under the heading:

‘How will you go about achieving your desire results?’

I’ve included strategy as a key hurdle for professionals when it comes to presenting purely because in our experience it is the most critical element which is often overlooked.

It is essential because having a clear strategy allows a speaker to plan exactly how they will go about achieving their goals. A presentation strategy contains all of the key principles that outlines how a speaker will mindfully consider, prepare, craft and deliver the presentation to achieve their goals.

I really hope you enjoyed this post. If you did, please feel free to share it through your preferred social media channels below and subscribe to our mailing list so you won’t miss any future posts.

If this article has inspired you to learn a little more about how effective your presentation skills are you may want to take a look at our presentation training and presentation coaching pages to see how we may be able to help you. You will also find a great deal of really helpful ‘free’ information in our Learning Centre.

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