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Answer the Unspoken Questions


Not every presentation tip has to do with the mechanics of PowerPoint (thank God!). This one is much more focused on your prep and how to create your content. But, you protest, I don’t have any issues with my prep or content. In that case, let’s just call this a reminder. Because I find that even as I prep for presentations (after two decades of standing in front of people), I often move quickly past these key questions that we all should be answering. (Nancy Duarte covers these and other questions when talking about personas. If you haven’t read her work, you’re missing out.) Why cover these three key questions? Simply, if you forget to cover these questions, unspoken questions, then your presentation won’t have the impact you want it to. So here are your quick reminders:

1. What keeps you up at night?

I’ve said it before, but your presentation has to have a point of view. Take a stand. Have an opinion. And the first place where this comes into play is when you’re defining, for your audience, what keeps them up at night. When you do it right, and you mention or reference it, your audience will be bouncing their heads up and down, showing you that you were right. If you’re wrong, you’ll be in trouble. So get this right! But don’t skip it. If you aren’t addressing the big issues they care about, why are you presenting? It’s not like they want to solve item #146 on their list. They care about items #1, #2, and #3. So make sure you know what is keeping them up at night. What worries them? That’s what you’re going to need to answer before you can go on to the next question.

2. What can I share that will help you?

Once you know what is keeping your audience up late, you’re ready to tackle question number 2. But only then. And this isn’t just a mental prep thing. It’s about your presentation as well. You woo your audience and draw them in by highlighting that you know who they are, and what is stressing them out. It is a call to listen. And once you have them listening, you can move into sharing. And what do you share? Simple: whatever you can that helps them sleep at night. The crazy thing, as I was mentioning, is that sometimes we go on and on about facts and details that aren’t related, in any significant way, to the thing that’s keeping them up at night. So get focused and add value – help people sleep at night! When you’ve done that, you’re ready for the last question that they won’t ask out loud – but you know it’s in their heads…

3. What do you want them to DO right now?

Most of the time we think presentations are about what *we* can offer to our audiences, but in reality, if all you pass is information, then you’re likely not going as far as you could be – and when it comes to adding value, why not go all the way? So the trick to driving your main points home is to make them “actionable.” Help your audience know exactly what steps they should take, even as soon as minutes after your presentation is over. When you give them one, two or three simple steps to follow, they’re likely to remember your material and they’ll likely invite you back for even more value-adding presentations.

So those are the three unspoken questions I think you need to answer – not only in your prep work, but in your presentation – to help your audience get the most they can out of what you’ll be sharing. It will also have the ancillary by-product of focusing your content so that what you have to say will be listened to and help you maximize your engagement factor. So get cracking!

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