Most effective business presentations have a clear structure in which the individual parts fit like pieces in a puzzle. Different structures may be more or less suitable for specific situations, but the benefit of any structure is that it presents information in ways that are familiar to how your listeners think, so that what you say is easy to follow and makes good sense. It provides a thorough answer to the main questions that they must have answered before they make a decision.
There are different structures for different situations, including Topical (three reasons to buy my product), Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow, and Problem-Solution.
Clear structure also helps you as a presenter to craft your presentation, and when you make the same basic presentation over and over, such as a sales presentation, you quickly develop a template that is easy to replicate, so with just a few changes to company name, change some numbers here and there, and you automagically have a customized presentation. What could be easier than that?
Here’s the problem: selecting the right structure is like choosing the right ensemble for someone to wear for an occasion. Pulling the right one off the rack is just the first step—no matter how appropriate it is, it still needs to be tailored for the individual wearer to be just right.
Let’s break down the Problem-Solution structure to illustrate. It comprises these elements:
If your listeners are just finding out about the problem for the first time, you will probably have to give full weight to each of these elements in your presentation. But most audiences, or at least different people within the audience, have already thought about it and will have different questions.
If they already know they have a problem and are eager to solve it, you could easily lose their attention in the early going by spending too much time describing the problem. On the other hand, where a lot of sales presentations go off track is that they spend too much time describing the solutions without first convincing the decision maker that they have a problem that needs to be solved right now.
The point is that all of the elements probably need to be in your presentation, but some have to be longer or shorter depending on where the audience is in their thinking. Let your audience analysis be your guide, not the prescribed number of slides you have built into your template.
How do you know? It requires a deep understanding of the decision making process in the room, driven by the questions in your opportunity plan. An internal coach or champion can be invaluable, but they’re not likely to tell you unless you actually ask the questions. If you can’t find out before the presentation, you have to be completely alert to the body language of the decision makers and be prepared to make adjustments on the fly.
Also, keep in mind that the tailoring depends less on what the audience wants to hear than on what they need to hear, and you may need to challenge their thinking. They may think they fully understand the problem and just want to hear what you’re proposing to solve it, (especially if your competitor has shaped the terms of the discussion), but you might have to show them an aspect of the problem that they haven’t considered.