How to Bulletproof Your Next Presentation with These Simple Steps

A terrific public presentation opens many doors for a business owner or entrepreneur.

It can help you:

  • Secure a key business partnership
  • Set you up as an authority to potential clients
  • Get your company in front of top talent in your industry
  • Spread the word about what you’re doing

All of these are pretty valuable in their own right.

But none will pan out if your presentation is boring, incoherent, complicated – or all of the above.

And let’s face it: most of them are!

In today’s post we will look at how you can make your presentation extra persuasive and impactful.

Note: we assume you already know what message you want to deliver.

Now let’s see how to make it hit home – and stick!


Communicate ‘from the inside out’

When people see that your beliefs align with their own, they take notice.

Great companies like Apple communicate why they do what they do, and only then move on to the ‘how’ and the ‘what’.

They understand that, once people are on board with their core values, it becomes a lot easier to turn them into loyal, lifelong customers.

Sure, you may not be doing a presentation in front of potential customers…

But the rule still holds true: telling them why you want to communicate your message is just as important as what you’re trying to say.

How to use it: start your presentation with why the audience should care about what you have to say.

What do you believe that they believe?

Don’t hit them over the head with your unique business know-how, or your newest product or service.

They don’t have a reason to care… yet. Give them one.

Example: this entire TED talk by Simon Sinek deals with “inside out” communication. And if you want to hear a great example of successfully applying this insight, watch this talk by Amanda Palmer.

Use ‘open loops’ to keep them hooked

If you pick up any reputable newspaper or magazine, you will see that it has long-form feature articles.

They tell, in great detail and scope, about a huge and complex topic:

  • America’s justice system
  • Global migration and its impact
  • Civil rights struggles around the world

That’s not the most interesting thing about those articles, though.

The most interesting thing is this: despite the scope, they’re told through a personal story.

A story that unfolds throughout the piece, and concludes at the end of the article.

This strategy – starting a story and prolonging the conclusion to keep the reader curious is known as an ‘open loop’.

Journalists know exactly how powerful these open loops are. If they weren’t, nobody would read those long magazine features all the way through!

(Incidentally, this is also the secret behind every successful TV show ever made).

Now, you don’t have to write for television, or knock out walls of text for a living, to benefit from this strategy.

How to use it: when you use a personal example or a story in your presentation, don’t simply tell it start to finish. Use it to build interest.

It could be as simple as pausing and asking a question, “What would you have done in this position?” or, “What do you think happened next?”

Then revisit the story a bit later in the presentation, and deliver the payoff with gusto!

Example: Nassim Taleb uses ‘open loops’ masterfully in his talk at Google. Note how he asks thought-provoking questions and follows up on them later, or opens a story and leaves it there, only to revisit it later and flesh it out more.

Beware the ‘Curse of Knowledge’

Chances are, if you’re giving a presentation on a subject, you know everything there is to know about it.

Here’s the thing though… your audience aren’t necessarily at the same level.

Concepts that seem obvious to you might be an entirely new thing to them. They don’t have the benefit of your expertise. They haven’t been through the same things as you, with no hard-won lessons of their own.

Finally, they might not be as passionate about, or interested in, the subject.

So when you say something important but vague like, “Good communication is key”

…you might be thinking about a specific, poignant story.

Like that one time when your engineers kept requesting modifications from the manufacturer, and they kept making the wrong changes.

So the new product got delayed, you had to re-fund thousands of pre-orders, and the whole thing was a mess. All because of miscommunication.

That’s what your thought process might look like from the inside.

But from the outside, your audience will be hearing a vague platitude that sounds painfully obvious… how insightful could it be?

As a result, they will assume that, by emphasizing “good communication”, you mean something cute and useless, like praising each other’s ideas during staff meetings.

And a brilliant teachable moment will go to waste!

That’s why the Curse of Knowledge is so insidious, and that’s why it can easily ruin an otherwise great presentation.

How to use it: as Einstein (wow, he’s come up a lot lately!) once said, “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it enough.”

Assume that the crowd you’re talking to doesn’t know much about the subject of your talk. Most of the time, you’ll be right. It doesn’t mean you have to dumb it down.

Just communicate it with clarity, and without any assumptions about what they do or don’t know.

Example: Jane McGonigal’s talk about how games can help fight cancer, alleviate physical pain, treat depression, PTSD, and a variety of other issues. Game design is a very niche topic, but she manages to make it very interesting and easy to understand.

Embrace repetition

Sure, time is scarce, and you need to deliver your talk as effectively as possible…

But you can’t just say something once and expect it to sink in.

The idea that a person needs to be exposed to the message several times before they internalize it is nothing new.

Actually, advertisers and marketers have known this for a long time – that’s where the concept of effective frequency comes from.

You might think that repeating key insights and concepts throughout the presentation comes across as condescending to the audience. You know, like you’re talking to toddlers.

But it doesn’t have to – not when you do it right!

How to use it: craft a memorable bite-sized message that captures the most important thing you want people to remember. And insert it at various points throughout your presentation.

Alternatively, come up with 2-3 variations of that core message, so it sounds a bit different each time, but conveys the same insight.

Example: let’s briefly revisit this TED talk by Simon Sinek – notice how many times he says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. Does it feel forced or annoying? No, it just comes across as trying to instill a very important point.

And for another example, check out this commencement speech by Neil Gaiman – one of the most celebrated storytellers working today. Can you guess why it’s also known as “Make Good Art” speech? That’s right – it’s the core message of Neil’s talk.’
That’s it – these key strategies will make your next presentation memorable, persuasive, and fun for everyone involved. And there’s no telling in what wonderful ways your efforts will pay off. Enjoy!

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