The goal of every presentation is to successfully influence how listeners will think or act. If that’s so, few presentations make the cut. Although many treat presentations rather casually, every one counts and each one is equally important.

And here’s why: We are our presentations . We’re the one on stage, and we’re judged by our listeners not only by what we say — but by the effectiveness of the performance.

Follow these steps to make every presentation a success:

1. Start with asking, “What do I want someone to say, do or think after hearing my presentation?” If you don’t have a clear picture of how you want listeners to respond, they will be confused and dissatisfied. A presentation gets a focus and comes under your control when you know exactly how you want it to be perceived. Write down your answer and make it specific so it becomes your built-in GPS as you develop your presentation. If you don’t, expect a low grade from your audience.

2. Think about some presentations you’ve heard lately at work or anywhere else. What didn’t you like ­­— too fast or slow? hard to follow? heard it before? ­— and what was good ­— good pace? good stories? learned something new? Again, write down your answers and then get it right when preparing a presentation.

3. A presentation is always a joint venture between presenter and listeners.It belongs as much to them as it does to you. This is why pretending they’re looking over your shoulder as you’re preparing it is a good way to think about it, but it also makes it hard work. How so? Because a presentation is always a compromise between what you want to say and what the audience wants to hear.

4. Connect with your listeners with stories. The good news is that listeners want to believe in you as someone who cares about what they care about. Unfortunately, this occurs infrequently. The way to do it is with the right stories, those that keep the focus on your listeners. Nix those about yourself, your company, your job, your dog, your significant other, or your vacation — unless they’re a good fit for your audience. If you have kids, you may have great stories, but leave them at home. If you don’t, you’ll lose your listeners. Always keep in mind that your presentation is about them, not you.  

5. Write your presentation word-for-word. “But that’s a lot of work and this is just an informal presentation,” someone says. Of course, it’s work, but the deadly mistake both new and experienced presenters make is cutting corners on preparation, starting with thinking that writing out presentations isn’t needed.

6. Turn on your presentation GPS. From the get-go, you have no more than 30-seconds to grab attention and make clear what you want to accomplish. One presenter looked at the audience of 75 or so salespeople and said, “Only three of you are going to get rich. How do I know? Only three of you will do what it takes to get there.”

What follows are the three steps a salesperson must take to reach success and this is where stories, supported by facts, can help engage listeners.

Then, wrap it up, summarizing what you want the listeners to remember about your presentation and, close with a challenge. By the way, never end with a question or a quotation. Always end with your own words.

7. Get some coaching. This seems to be the universal solution today. Yet, it can be a big help for presenters. Your best bet may be in the next cubical, a friend or a significant other — a person who recognizes how much you want to do well. Then set the stage with your new coach. “Be honest. Make some notes and let me know what you like and what you don’t — and why. Then we can talk about it.”

Making great presentations is an immense challenge. They’re never spontaneous, never left to the last minute, and never read from PowerPoint screens. They’re always written, always edited and always rehearsed. Those who do it best are those who recognize that giving a presentation isn’t what they do; it’s who they are.

John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales.” Contact him at, 617-774-9759 or

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