At crucial points in your life, you are going to have to give a seminar presentation. So how do you get people to listen to you? How can you hold people’s attention and get them excited? How can you inspire your audience to say ‘yes!’ to your proposal – and gain the winning edge over your competitors?
The answer lies in emotion. Often the most neglected aspect of a presentation or pitch, and yet the most vital. When people make decisions, it’s the brain’s emotional centre (the limbic system) that drives the action.
Whether you are saying ‘yes’ to marriage, or ‘no’ to a business plan, the neurons in the limbic system call the shots. The ‘fight-or-flight’ buttons that triggered an adrenaline rush to protect us from danger in primitive times are the same ones that trigger feelings of excitement or anxiety when you make your pitch in the boardroom.
So, what are the key ingredients to generate positive emotional response?
We don’t like to be confused by what we hear. It makes us angry and frustrated. Guide your audience through your proposal easily and simply.
In my days with Coca Cola, I developed the ‘one-minute miracle’ method, to help executives sum up their proposal or business plan – on an A4 sheet.
Start with a simple summary and then expand from there.
It’s something you might have learned about back in English class – but it is often ignored as a powerful business tool. Using images and stories is a fresh (but easy) way to make something new seem familiar, and it is a powerful method of conveying ideas that are otherwise difficult to understand.
You get to be creative and fun too – and we’ll be inspired.
3. Turn it all upside down
Have you ever seen an upside down map of the world? It’s exactly the same as the one you’ve been familiar with all your life – except that it’s upside down. This fresh perspective helps to bypass personal bias and memory (the stumbling blocks in the brain) and see the world in many different and insightful ways.
Much of your presentation will involve chunks of information we’ve seen and heard about before, so find ways to turn it upside down or inside out.
When we see things in a different way, our brains become engaged and open-minded.
4. The dark side
We love challenges, scary stories, and competition. It’s in our DN. Too Few pitches include struggles, drama or tension. We all know from experience that nothing worth doing or having is easy, so be upfront about it. You might say: “This is not going to be easy,” or “This is not for everyone.”
Your listeners will respect your honesty and feel stimulated by the challenge. You could also embrace the dark side by naming the enemy.
For example: “Now, of course the competition currently has an incredible ad campaign running.” But following up with: “However, this will really shake things up…!” and laying out your strategy. Name the dragons. We’ll appreciate that you’re also a realist.
5. Think like a film director
Great films have variety of pace: they have fast sequences, pensive moments and funny moments. This variation keeps our interest and focus.
If you’re using PowerPoint, stop after five minutes and just talk. Or perhaps show a short film. Or hand something out. Or take the audience into another room. Stimulate interest by adding a flow of variety to how you are presenting your ideas.
It will increase the ‘feel good’ dopamine levels in our brains. In other words, keep it fun, and interesting. If we’re not bored, it’s a big step towards liking you.
Deep within each human being is the need to believe in something beyond ourselves. So it is no surprise that every great speaker conveys their vision. That is, their belief system and the set of values that drives their actions and decisions.
We need to understand yours. If you do not have a vision, get one. What do you believe in? You need to convey a strong sense of this in your pitch.
The vision is the deeper “why we are doing this” that will stimulate emotions and inspire us.
The ‘destination’ is a very real, physical (and ideally, inspiring) goal. You can see it on paper. You can talk about it. Your vision and your ‘destination’, when used together, become the secret ingredients that will help you to build a strong emotional connection with you audience.
8. Attention, benefits and credibility
These are the ABC of creating a comfort zone, before winning any deal. First, there will be something about your pitch that grabs people’s attention from the start – and makes it stand out from the rest.
Then, either subtly or up-front as appropriate, we need to know ‘what’s in it for me?’ – the benefits of what you are offering.
Finally, reinforce your credibility – your ability to deliver. Inspire your audience to believe in you by mentioning a previous experience where you triumphed. It doesn’t need to be hammered home; it’s sometimes best to be subtle, but clear.
All this adds up to our feeling safe in your hands – a core human requirement.
9. Act confident
First of all, be yourself. Because the best person you can be is just you. If you pretend to ‘be’ somebody else you’ll come over as a fake. Try anchoring your pitch in a personal story that brings your presentation to life and helps you feel grounded.
And here’s a trick for the theatre: pretend to be more confident than you really are. This technique will actually make you feel more confident. Try it.
10. Location, location, location
The time and place and ambience for your meeting or presentation are critical – whether it’s a gathering in a boardroom, or in front of a large audience in a lecture theatre.
It is essential that there are no distractions. The lighting should be good and the sound clear. The seating should be comfortable. The space needs to ‘have a good vibe’.
Bonus tip 1: never schedule a meeting 30 minutes to two hours after lunch – it is the most emotionally unresponsive time for human beings.
Bonus tip 2: Wednesdays are also proven to be bad days for most people – best to skip them all together.
By Andrew Macbean