Business Presentation Skills – Blow Them Away by Letting Them Set the Agenda

When you have to make a business presentation or pitch to group of senior executives it’s often the case that you might be just one of many presenters that they have seen that day. So it’s important to start strong and capture their attention from the get go. One way of doing this is to let them set the agenda.

I’ve just finished watching the first in a new series of the British X-Factor. It was obvious that by the time the final few performers were due to sing that Simon Cowell had had enough of average acts. When the last singer came on to the stage, Simon was distracted, bored and angry. But then Daniel, a teacher from England started singing, and he lit up the room. He was brilliant, but seemed even more so because he was such a contrast to those that had gone before.

This is the opportunity you have in business presentation; especially those that require data, analysis or numbers. It’s normal for the presenters to be ill prepared. Hence they start weak and continue in the same vein through the presentation. They can make the mood in the room dark and gloomy.

So what can you do to make sure that you capture the attention of your audience right from the beginning, and then continue to do so throughout the presentation?

Here’s a unique way of doing it. What you do is open with a question that allows the audience to tell you exactly what they want, and then you use what they say to set the agenda. This is exactly how go about it.

Step 1: Ask the audience a really specific question about the topic upon which you are going to present. For example, if you were going to pitch for venture capital money for a new car which ran on fresh air you might say: “I have an idea for a car which will run air, what three questions do you most answered in order to make an investment.”

Step 2: You listen to the questions then use them to set the agenda. For example let’s say that the first question was “Do you have an cast iron patent?.” You would say “thank you for that question I’m going to deal with the patents in the second point of my agenda.”

Step 3: You write the question as an agenda point on a flipchart, i.e. provide a cast iron patent, and continue to take questions, and turn them into agenda points until all issues are covered.

This technique is not for the faint of heart. It relies on you being very prepared, and willing to drop or add some points from your presentation, on the hoof. But if you’ve prepared and have a tight structure for your presentation then you can give them a tightly targeted, highly original pitch.

And if like Daniel, from the X-factor, you are faced with a grumpy sullen audience, then maybe you too can light up the room just when they are least expecting it.

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