RESOURCES - Presenting to Win - how to get the response you need by Terence Mauri

Did you know that speaking to a group of people is regarded as one of our biggest fears alongside rats, spiders and even death? The technical name for it is 'glossophobia' - the anxiety that one feels before or during a business presentation. Yet presentations play a huge role in today's business world whether it's briefing analysts or leading a major change initiative. According to a recent management survey in The Times on leadership skills, presenting ranked top alongside strategy and problem-solving. In the USA, a staggering £1bn will be spent on campaigning and persuasion by the time a new President has been elected. So what are the secrets for influencing colleagues, suppliers and bosses in order to achieve the results you want? Rarely, if ever, will a presentation exceed the quality of the planning process that precedes it.

According to research by, for most audiences 25% of the presentation will be forgotten in 24 hours, 50% in 48 hours and a significant 80% in 4 days. So in preparation for your next meeting or board presentation be extra critical of what you choose to use. In fact, what you leave out of the presentation will be as important as what you keep in. When you decide what to put into a presentation, you are effectively deciding what the audience will take out of it. And therein lies the power of persuasion because you can exert total control over that material.

The history of presenting to win dates back to the 3rd century BC when Aristotle was establishing the 'Five Principles of Rhetoric' at the Lyceum in Ancient Greece. Learning from Socrates and Plato before him, Aristotle taught his students that structure is the scaffolding that enables us to build a persuasive argument. It is structure that supports ideas and beliefs and enables a Finance Director, for example, to lead his team to the conclusion he wants them to reach. Over more than 2,000 years, Aristotle's principles have stood the test of time and remain as relevant today for a newly qualified accountant or veteran CFO.

The five principles that guide Aristotle's rhetorical process are:

1. Invention - is where you identify the central questions of your subject and start to marshal relevant arguments. Ask yourself Why? at least 5 times to achieve clarity and a clear sense of purpose.

2. Arrangement - here you need to organise the information that supports those arguments to ensure that it is comprehensible and memorable.

3. Style - this relates to language, content, rate of speech and remembering to pause in order to create anticipation space and authority. Use more verbs to build momentum in the recipients of your message. For example, the investment will be X is more persuasive than the cost will be Y.

4. Memory - how do you wish to be remembered. For example, a recent client for a leading investment bank used a simple prop of an egg-timer to create a sense of urgency in the audience.

Delivery - according to research at UCL, a surprising 55% of your communication is made credible by how you look and behave in front of the audience. And so when you first stand in front of your audience, your mind needs to remain calm and your thoughts collected. Project yourself and don't be afraid to gesticulate and move as long as it's purposeful. Business presentations are often heavily dependant on PowerPoint so remember that if you press the 'B' key the screen will go black allowing you to hold everyone's attention during key stages of the presentation. Hit the 'B' key again for the screen to re-appear.

Presenting to win is about making your presentations more active as opposed to passive experiences. There about asking yourself what you want the audience to think, feel and do. To be more persuasive, there are 6 important pieces of evidence to support your claims:

1. Case Studies
2. Testimonials
3. Expert quotes
4. Facts and statistics
5. Visual images
6. Hypothetical examples

The pay-off for making your presentations evidence-based is to ensure that at the end of speaking the audience doesn't need to ask 'what's in if for me?' They know. And they believe you.

In her book, Powerspeak, Dorothy Leeds cites six common failings she has observed when watching other people give speeches and presentations.

They are these:

1. An unclear purpose
2. Lack of clear organisation
3. Too much information
4. Not enough support for ideas and concepts
5. Monotonous voice and sloppy speech
6. Not meeting the real needs of the audience

If you use the ‘Five principles of Rhetoric’ when preparing your next presentation, you stand a good chance of avoiding them all. Presenting to win doesn’t happen by accident but through a careful process of planning. The columnist Roscoe Drummond once said. ‘The mind is a wonderful thing. It starts working the minute you are born and never stops until you stand up and speak in public’. We all know this experience. But we often confuse fear and excitement. Remember to know your subject, practice and presenting can truly become a rewarding part of your business career.

Terence Mauri is the founder of LeadersFirst.. Voted ‘Trainer of the Year’ 2007, he specializes in helping clients at organisations including HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland and Zurich to become engaging and confident presenters.