Step Up Your Game for High-Stakes Presentations

By April 5, 2010August 13th, 2020SpeakerNotes

As a presenter, it’s always important to be memorable, but let’s face it, for some events you need to step up your game. In high-stakes environments where the pressure is on to deliver the presentation that will seal that big deal or take your career to the next level, there are no do-overs. You NEED to “hit it out of the park.” But preparing for these all-important presentations is very different from preparing for the sales presentation you have given hundreds of times. So how do you make the adjustment?

The inspiration for this article came from Carolyn, a long-time client, as we were reviewing 100+ speakers at an annual trade show—a marquee event for this leading industry association. Poring over evaluations from the previous year illuminated the high-stakes nature of these presentations. It also became clear that in the past some speakers were simply not prepared to meet the demands of such an event.

To set speakers up for improved success going forward, Carolyn asked me to deliver on-line training and coaching that would provide the tools the presenters needed to step up their game. The “lessons learned” from reading those attendee evaluations are by no means unique to Carolyn’s industry, so you can use these four key lessons as you prepare for your next high-stakes presentation.

Lesson #1: Keep Your Promises

Your audience decides to attend your presentation based on the description in the event program or other marketing materials. If you’ve approached writing your description from the standpoint of solving a problem your audience faces, this description becomes your de facto promise to meet (and exceed) those expectations. So, resist any temptation to make substantive changes to your topic after marketing materials have been finalized. Also, make certain that you’re on the same page with the event host when it comes to content, tone, and focus. This level of due diligence will ensure that your message connects with the audience that needs to hear it the most.

Lesson #2: Less is More

There’s a limited amount of information audience members can remember and process. We’ve all been there—sitting through a presentation so chock-full of information that we feel totally overwhelmed. As a presenter, your job is to help your listeners avoid information overload by identifying your core message, then reinforcing that message with the right amount of detail given the time allotted. No more, no less. For help in honing your message, follow our four-step C.O.D.E.®process:

Step 1: Clarify your message. Make it your goal to develop one simple sentence (10 words or less) that summarizes the essence of your presentation.

Step 2: Organize your content. Group your content into easily-digestible bits of information that build a logical structure. Make sure everything maps back to your core message.

Step 3: Develop your audiovisuals. Only after you’ve clarified your idea and organized your content is it time to consider whether to incorporate any media and if so, the best way to do it.

Step 4: Express yourself and engage your audience. Too many presenters take on an artificial persona or try to imitate someone notable, but when you succeed at being you, you engage your audience more effectively.

Lesson #3: Create An Experience

When you’re in front of an audience, are you creating an experience that challenges your listeners to think, discuss, and even question what’s being said? Interactivity—from asking powerful questions to soliciting volunteers—is the key to keeping things fresh and involving your audience. Try these five interactive techniques to engage listeners and inspire action:

  • Get your audience to interact within the first two minutes of your presentation by asking a question or doing a quick poll.
  • Make eye contact and use intentional gestures to invite your audience into a conversation. Doing this well, will break down any imagined barrier between you and your audience members.
  • Storytelling is a universal way to capture your audience’s attention. Include stories and anecdotes to illustrate your ideas throughout your presentation. You can also invite audience members to share relevant stories and examples.
  • Use video to evoke emotions which could otherwise be difficult to elicit from your audience.
  • Build “soft breaks” into your presentation. Where appropriate, step away from your formal remarks to interact directly with your audience. Then incorporate their contributions into your presentation going forward.

Lesson #4: Manage Your Time

Time management is a huge concern for first-time presenters and veteran speakers alike. There’s nothing worse than watching presenters rush through their remaining material when they realize the clock got away from them. To allow adequate time for your presentation, do the math. Assuming you have a 60-minute presentation:

  • Subtract five minutes from the start time and end time to allow for introductions, settling in, and transitioning the mindset of the audience.
  • Allow 10-15 minutes for questions and discussion.
  • You’re left with roughly 35 minutes for your content.

Tip: The way you think about, prepare for, and execute a presentation can have a tremendous effect on its ability to influence and motivate your audience. When you step up your game with a well-planned approach that follows the strategies outlined above, you’ll be ready to deliver your material with confidence…and to bask in high praise from even the most demanding audience.