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Although many professional service providers may find themselves reluctant to give presentations, they remain one of the most effective business-development tools available.

Presentations can help you increase your visibility by differentiating yourself from others and enhance your credibility by articulating your professionalism and expertise each time you're given the opportunity to be in front of prospects and clients.

If you look at creating an effective presentation as a process rather than as an event, you'll quickly realize that it isn't a Sisyphean task. A process has the advantages of being both learnable and repeatable, so once you master it you can streamline development time and increase the returns.

I call the process for designing, developing, and delivering effective business presentations "The Seven Acts of Creating." The key to maximizing their full potential lies in making them goal-driven and results-oriented.

1. Create the basis to develop an effective relationship with the target audience

To fully comprehend what will motivate them to action, you must first discover any beliefs, attitudes, or values that stand in the way of their accepting your call to action.

Adapting your material to their frame of reference—the interpretive construct that colors any information they process—means you'll be more successful in developing messages that resonate with their own experience.

Demographics tell part of the story, but through more active research, such as interviews and surveys, you'll reach a deeper level of understanding.

2. Create clarity of purpose

What's the one specific reason you're giving the presentation? What's the response you expect? Avoid framing your expectations in terms of intangibles such as "enhancing, creating awareness, and motivating."

In other words, outcomes should focus on observable actions rather than mental states. That way, you'll have a better measure of your success.

3. Create structure

An effective introduction will overcome preoccupation by capturing attention, overcome apathy by showing the audience what's of value for them, and overcome uncertainty by laying out a road map of the presentation.

The body will contain key messages that support the strategic goal. An effective conclusion provides a sense of psychological closure, reinforcement of the key messages, and a call to action.

The clearer the structure, the more likely you are to move the audience to the destination.

4. Create trust and rapport so you can make a favorable impression and give the audience reasons to believe you

We tend to like people who are similar to us, so when you can show how much you have in common with your audience, chances are higher they'll trust you.

Providing evidence for your key messages in the form of examples, explanations, expert testimony, statistics, and narratives will make them more credible.

If you've spent the time thoroughly researching your audience in Step 1, you'll have a good idea of which types of evidence they find persuasive. That varies tremendously among people; for some, an emotional proof point can be every bit as effective as a logical one.

5. Create influence through compelling language

Your language creates the perspectives, involvement, and mental states that move your audience closer to action. Make it more powerful by choosing active verbs and descriptive nouns, and by avoiding clichés and wordiness.

Realize that language choice is strategic rather than merely stylistic. Creative and unique metaphors can often provide the shift necessary to help audiences see problems and solutions differently.

6. Create the illustration of your ideas through visuals

Creating visuals late in the process helps ensure you don't overemphasize their importance. Unfortunately, many presenters jump prematurely to this step and try to dump information into a PowerPoint template.

A good analogy is a novelist who, rather than beginning with plotlines and character development, and creating suspense, instead concentrates on font types, page layouts, and the cover design.

The two essential principles of effective visuals are that they be clearly visible and quickly understood.

7. Create interest in the delivery of the presentation

Good speaking shouldn't draw attention to the speaker, just as good acting doesn't draw attention to the actor.

The best delivery resembles natural and authentic conversation. The three biggest impediments to effective delivery are monotonous intonation, which leads to boredom; vocalized pauses, which cause distraction; and speaking too softly, which undermines credibility.

* * *

Creating your business presentations through a process approach will remove most of the anxiety caused by treating presentations as an event. You'll be much more focused on the audience instead of yourself, so you'll be less apprehensive.

You'll reduce preparation time because when you have a clear sense of purpose all subsequent decisions about what to include and how to structure the material become clearer.

Finally, you'll be able to concentrate on getting the business, instead of getting the presentation over with.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joseph Sommerville, PhD (sommerville@peakcp.com) is president of Peak Communication Performance (www.peakcp.com) and author of Rainmaking Presentations: How To Grow Your Business by Leveraging Your Expertise, the first chapter of which is available at www.rainmakingpresentations.com.