What’s in it for me? Discover how to change someone’s mind in eight seconds.

You can easily find plenty of books, webinars, and online courses that will teach you the mechanics of putting together a formal presentation. But this Blink to The Presentation Advantage gives you that and more. It focuses on the main steps, sure – but also on the importance of making a powerful connection with your audience, so you can capture their attention, change their minds, and spur them to take action.

Psychology studies show that the average attention span has shrunk to a mere eight seconds. In eight seconds, not only do you have to make a stellar first impression – you also have to offer something intriguing enough for your audience to put aside their phones and actively listen to what’s coming next. In the moments that follow, you have to keep their attention, offer knowledge in a form that is both informative and interesting, and transform them from passive listeners into active partners.

It’s not easy, but it is possible. And this Blink will show you how – even if you’re introverted, nervous, or otherwise averse to public speaking.


See things differently

If you’re not making presentations, you’re not living. Presentation is the act of sharing information in order to inform or persuade. That’s a broad definition that encompasses a lot of interactions both formal and informal, in-person and online, one-to-one and one-to-many.

When you’re standing in front of a boardroom trying to get funding for a project, you need the presentation advantage. When you’re standing in front of a friend trying to win an argument over where to eat dinner, you need the presentation advantage.

We’re talking about more than just how many bullets to put on a slide or how to project your voice – although, yes, we will discuss those things as well. But the central emphasis of the presentation advantage is on communication and connection.

Throughout this Blink, you’re going to hear about a whole alphabet of tips and principles. We’ll start with the letter “C.”

Your first goal in presenting is to get your listeners to change their minds or see something differently. This is called a paradigm shift. If you can’t get someone to experience a paradigm shift, you won’t be able to get them to take a desired action. To lead your audience to a paradigm shift, you need the three C’s of connection.

The first C is connecting with your message. Ask yourself what strategic goal this presentation will help you accomplish. Maybe your goal is to retain and attract employees. You know that childcare is a big issue for people, and that you’ve lost employees because of it. So you want to convince your board to fund an in-office day care. Connecting with your message means knowing why that day care matters in the bigger strategic goal of employee hiring and retention.

The second C is connecting with yourself. This is about integrity and authenticity. While there are behaviors you should shape in yourself, such as posture and gestures, you don’t want to be phony. Your audience will spot fakeness in a heartbeat, and you’ll fail to make the necessary connection. Avoid spin in the form of double-speak or euphemisms. Be straightforward, honest, and passionate about your message. Most of all, listen to your feelings. If anything about your presentation feels uncomfortable, awkward, or fake, listen to those feelings – and make some changes.

The third C is connecting with your audience. Nobody wants to be lectured at, and nobody has time to waste. So make your presentation a conversation with your audience. Engage them, and involve them in the presentation. Ultimately, you want them to buy into your idea and take action to bring it to life, so it makes sense that they would get to be a part of the initial conversation.

Now that we’ve shared the secret sauce of making connections, let’s move on to the three D’s of presentation: develop, design, and deliver.


The first D – Develop a story

Good stories don’t start with pie charts or data dumps. Good stories start with a bang. Remember, you’re trying to shift a paradigm. To connect with your audience and grab their attention, the very first thing you need to do is disrupt the status quo.

Keep in mind that your listeners have already decided they’re going to be bored, and they’ve got their phones at the ready to distract themselves. So right out of the gate, you want to show your audience something that will shake – or even shatter – their current paradigm. The idea is to throw them off balance and awaken them to an urgent concern. You want them to put down their phones and lean forward.

To do this, you need to follow five steps in developing your message.

First, identify the thing that’ll make your audience feel like doing what you want them to do. What problem aren’t they seeing? What lie are they currently believing? This is the thing that will rattle them into paying attention.

Second, analyze your audience. Find out what they already know, what their biases are, what priorities they have. Speakers tend to believe they have something worth sharing and knowledge to impart. Don’t let ego get in the way of truly listening to your audience and finding out what they already know.

Third, consider the logistics of your environment. Are you presenting in person or in a video conference? What time of day is it? Are there cultural considerations? Do you know your equipment like the back of your hand? Think about things that could go wrong, and prepare for them. You won’t catch them all every time, but preparation heightens your chances of success.

Fourth, develop strong supporting points. Brainstorm what you believe your audience needs to know. Then organize these things into three categories. The “power of three” is a tried-and-true convention that has existed in storytelling for centuries. Goldilocks and the three bears. Three wishes from the magic lamp. The three stooges. We see it time and again.

Here’s another set of three: the Triple S formula. For each of your three key points, you’re going to follow this formula to optimize your audience’s ability to retain the information. The Triple S formula is state, support, and summarize. Clearly state your point. Offer supporting information. And then, because memory is pretty shoddy stuff, summarize by restating your key point.

And fifth, create a powerful introduction and conclusion. We’ve already talked about that earth-shattering, paradigm-shifting introduction. You want to immediately establish yourself as credible, your message as urgent, and your presentation as worthy of your listeners’ attention. Then you’ll flow into your three supporting points. Finally, you’ll end with your conclusion – an epic call to adventure. The war cry that galvanizes your audience into action.

One more quick point regarding virtual presentations: the same rules apply. You’ll want to engage – and reengage – your audience throughout. You’ll just need to make sure to use the different tools at your disposal. Creating polls, leveraging the chat function, and using breakout rooms are all ways to connect with your audience through virtual presentations.

Now, since you’ll probably be making use of slides regardless of whether your presentation is in person or online, let’s dive into the second D of good presentations.


The Second D – Design purposeful visuals

You don’t have to be a designer or artist to create impactful visuals. You just have to think through what you want your visuals to achieve.

Here’s an example: A man prepared for his presentation by providing gifts for some of his audience. There were ten executives present. Seven of them got personalized ski gloves. One of them got a crushed box with gloves that didn’t fit, and two of them got nothing at all.

When the two executives who got nothing asked, “What gives?” the presenter said, “Sorry, yours didn’t arrive in time.”

When the executive with the too-small gloves spoke up, the presenter said, “Sorry, sometimes things get mixed up.”

Then the presenter turned on his PowerPoint to a single slide with a giant fraction on it. The fraction was “one-third.” The presenter said, “This is how many of our customers had bad experiences with their order delivery this year.”

You see, the presenter oversaw shipping for his company. The company was outsourcing their shipping to a fulfillment agency. The fulfillment agency wasn’t doing a great job, and the presenter wanted to resolve that problem.

The combination of real-life props and a single slide made a powerful impact on his audience. It woke them up to a true problem. Even better, it pulled them in and made them feel that the problem was theirs as well. Our presenter turned his audience from passive listeners into active partners before he’d even started his slide presentation. And it was all because of purposeful visuals.

You don’t have to go to the trouble of creating customized gifts for your audience – it probably wouldn’t make sense in other situations. But you can put thought and care into your visuals.

Choose visuals that make an impact from the beginning. These are called “big picture pictures.” Look for that one picture that tells the whole story before you even start talking – much like the giant “one-third” we just referred to.

Whatever you do, make sure you use high-quality images. A high-quality image is an image that does its job. If you can’t think of what job the visual should be doing, then don’t use it.

If you use handouts, don’t share them before the presentation. If you do, you’ll end up losing your audience to yet another distraction. And, as with all other visuals, make sure you have a purpose for the handouts and that they’re doing their job.

In terms of text, use bullets sparingly – you don’t need a bulleted list on every slide. When you do have a list, stick to just three to five bullets. Use sans serif fonts, large fonts, and be sure to check the readability before you present.

Final note on visuals: in a virtual meeting, visuals play an even more important role. Because your audience isn’t in the room with you, you have to use all the tools at your disposal to connect with them.

Now that we’ve talked about messaging and visuals, let’s address the third and final D of good presentations.


The third D – Deliver with confidence

Now it’s time to get up and present. This is not your opportunity to channel your inner used car salesman – unless you are a used car salesman, in which case, go for it. You don’t have to be slick. You don’t have to show a lot of teeth and laugh at your own jokes.

You do have to be aligned with your message to be authentic, which is the only way to connect with your audience. You have 39 milliseconds to make a first impression, and you need to make sure you maximize each one of them by following these tips.

Before presenting, prepare your equipment and your room. Have a professional appearance. Dress for the occasion, and do your best to align your wardrobe choice with how your audience is dressed.

At the beginning of your presentation, make sure everyone can see and hear you. When you stand in front of your audience, have good posture. Be aware of how different postures can convey different meanings. Arms folded across your chest can make you seem closed off. Hands folded behind your back can make it seem like you’re hiding something.

Use good eye contact. Be aware of – and conform to – any cultural ideas about eye contact. In some places, too much eye contact can seem rude or arrogant. In others, too little eye contact can be seen as weak.

On the other hand, facial expressions are universal. A smile is a smile all over the world. And thanks to mirror neurons, if your audience is engaged, they will mirror your expressions.

When presenting, use meaningful, purposeful gestures. While no one wants to see you standing like a robot, they also don’t want to see you fidgeting or wildly gesticulating. Use gestures that help emphasize your points. If you’re presenting virtually and your audience can’t see your gestures, use them anyway. They help generate energy that can be felt throughout the presentation.

When presenting, project your voice. If you need to pause, don’t fill the silence with useless utterances. Let there be silences. Those quiet moments often serve to emphasize your point. Use your voice conversationally, as though you were telling a great story to a group of friends. Be aware of your pace. Generally, you want to speak just a bit faster than you normally would.

Now let’s talk about the great fear: What if you have to speak in front of a hostile audience?

First and foremost, remember that this moment is about their feelings – not yours. Show empathy by listening to them and genuinely seeking to understand their plight. When it’s your turn to talk, invite them to hear your ideas.

When answering tough questions, follow the Triple S formula we outlined earlier: State the answer. Provide supporting information. And then summarize by bringing it full circle and reiterating the first statement.

If you don’t know the answer to a question that gets asked, just say so. People are more understanding of someone who admits they don’t know than of someone who makes up stuff just to save face.

Ultimately, a good presentation is all about connection. It’s about knowing and respecting your audience, creating a paradigm shift, and then inviting them to partner with you in taking action.


Final summary

While there are plenty of tried-and-true presentation tactics you should use, none of them matter if you haven’t connected with your message, yourself, and your audience. Specifically, this means creating a strategic messaging, speaking with honesty and integrity, and respecting your audience enough to put time and effort into giving them something valuable. When you make these connections, the rest of the presentation falls into place. By implementing the advice and methods we’ve outlined, you’ll experience audience engagement and buy-in – which will ultimately bring the ideas you’re presenting to life.