5 Steps to a Winning Presentation

Regardless of your role in the retail world, sooner or later, you’ll be confronted with the task of giving a presentation. Whether you’re pitching an idea internally, selling products to a retailer or communicating updates to investors, public speaking eventually comes for us all.

If you find the prospect unnerving, you’re far from alone. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that a fear of public speaking is the most prevalent phobia there is — more common than the fear of heights, spiders or even death itself.

The good news is that proper preparation can nix a lot of the uncertainty that makes giving a presentation so scary. Here are 5 key steps to delivering a compelling presentation with confidence (without imagining your audience in their underwear).

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Step 1: Define your audience.

Start by thinking about who you are speaking to, what you want them to know and why they should be invested in what you have to say.

Are they a gatekeeper? A stakeholder? A potential buyer? Knowing your audience is the first step to understanding how to craft a presentation that meets their needs, whether your objective is to inform, influence or sell.

Remember that you are selling yourself as much as your slides, so the time you spend getting to know your listeners and their expectations will pay dividends. Choose a presentation style and format that makes sense for your audience, even if it pulls you a bit outside of your comfort zone. When it comes time to deliver, you’ll be much more at ease if you know that they are.

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Step 2: Identify the big idea.

A University of Illinois study revealed that we come away from an average conversation remembering only about 20% of the details. In order for your presentation to succeed, you’ll need to ensure that your main point makes it into that 20%.

As you begin pulling data and building a narrative, it’s easy to get lost in the details. Finish the sentence, At the end of this presentation, I want my audience to know ____. Build your story around this one clear objective.

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Step 3: Know your story.

Human brains love stories. So much so, that information presented in story-form is 22 times more memorable than rote facts.

Storytelling provides all-important context and gives you some control over how your audience frames facts and figures. Warren Buffet famously informed Berkshire Hathaway shareholders of a down year by reminiscing about 1965, when he “could never have dreamed that a year in which we had a gain of $24.1 billion would be (considered) subpar.” Bad news can be transformed into good news over the course of a narrative!

With this in mind, a great story does two things. First of all, it engages your audience and sets the mood for your presentation. Second, it sets your mood for delivering your presentation.

Faithfully reciting a collection of facts is awkward and unnerving, but telling a story is natural. When you’re familiar with the beginning, middle and end of your narrative, there is much less to memorize and rehearse. The more your presentation feels like a conversation amongst friends, the more you’ll feel at ease sharing your information.

That said, practice, practice, practice. It’s hard to feel confident if you don’t know your story inside and out.


Step 4: Map your narrative arc.

How can you make each part of your story harken back to your big idea?

Remember that the beginning is a very good place to start. Kick off your presentation with a bold statement or startling fact. This initial intrigue will be your audience’s motivation to take the journey with you — it’s also the golden thread that weaves your entire presentation together.

Every hero must overcome a challenge — what’s yours? Maybe it’s a gap in the market, a bad year of reporting, or a problem your startup must solve in order to grow. Explain your challenge and how your current solutions are falling short.

The more the audience identifies with your dilemma, the more invested they will be in your plan of action. Think of the part of your presentation where you offer solutions as your dragon-slaying moment: it’s the resolution your listeners have been looking forward to.

Story Telling

Step 5: Don’t forget the hook!

Like great stories end with a moral, great presentations end with a call to action. You’ve determined what you want your audience to come away remembering and feelings, but what do you want them to do about it?

Be very clear in communicating your ask, whether it is something as general as support or as specific as more shelf space and a higher profit margin. You’ve brought your listeners this far, so tell them how they can continue to stay invested after the presentation ends.

Be deliberate with your closing statement and decide how you want to deliver it. Prepare, practice and then practice some more — as your confidence increases, so will the effectiveness of your words.

Long Story Short…

  1. Know your audience
  2. Know your big idea
  3. Know your story
  4. Know your narrative arc inside and out
  5. Conclude with an ask
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