Rhodes Map to Turbocharged Presentations

May 30, 2018

When it comes to HIMSS Global Conference speaker proposals, Amendola Communications enjoys a 75% win rate. That means that out of 12 speaking abstracts we write and submit on behalf of our clients, nine are accepted.

Quite impressive considering that HIMSS has a less than 30% acceptance rate. In fact, for HIMSS18, 742 proposals were received and only 224 were accepted, which means 518 were declined.

The process is not easy and takes anywhere from 12-16 hours per proposal. If only clients would invest the same time and energy in preparing their presentations! If clients were willing to carve out time for presentation training or coaching before they get up on the stage, here is what I would suggest.

Grab attention. High tech need not be dry tech. Instead of diving right into your presentation, open with a bang with one or more of the following:

  • Startling statistic or statement
  • Rhetorical question
  • Historical analogy or example
  • Quotation
  • Personal anecdote
  • Something specific to your audience
  • Something to make audience feel good about themselves
  • Promise
  • Meme
  • Short story (see example below)
  • Headline from today’s newspaper (show newspaper)

For this last one, I am quoted in the book Presentations for Dummies (as Marcia Lemmons, my former married name) sharing this very tip. I first saw it used by a business development director at Accenture where I worked in the 90’s. The biz dev director would begin his presentation by holding up a fresh copy of USA Today or the Wall Street Journal. He would point to a headline and find a clever way to tie it to his presentation. This had the effect of making his presentation more current, relevant and way more interesting.

Short stories can be impactful if you can deliver them in 30 seconds or less. I saw this technique used very effectively by a Six Sigma Master Black Belt who would tell “The Dolphin Story” to open a workshop on the Voice of the Customer. It went like this:

“During World War II a mythology developed that dolphins love people. It was a myth propagated by sailors who dolphins rescued from drowning by pushing them ashore. A crew decided to set up camp on a ship to observe this first hand. After a few weeks on the ship, they concluded: dolphins don’t love people”¦they like to push things”¦the problem is we never hear from the people they push back into sea.”

State the problem or need. Why should the audience care? Spend one to two minutes sharing evidence, data, news reports or personal experience to illustrate the problem or opportunity. Stating the challenge up-front makes the audience uncomfortable enough that they will want to stay to hear your solution. This is referred to as the “tension-relief” technique used by playwrights.

Establish a pattern. Tell the audience what to expect from you in the next hour. Provide a roadmap agenda so they can more easily follow along.

Presentation patterns can be in the form of:

  • Lists
  • Chronological order
  • Physical location (ex: Europe, Asia, N. America)
  • Extended metaphor
  • Divide a word
  • Before/after
  • Theory/practice
  • Why/how/what
  • Provider/payer/pharma
  • Classic story (three acts)

Share the solution. This is the guts of your presentation; the knowledge or expertise you have been asked to share. Tip: When creating your presentation, you can get a jumpstart by working on this section first then working on your intro, extro and other slides later. You will find your creativity will kick in once you feel confident in what you have to say and can easily build on top of it.

Finish strong! Remind your audience of what they’ve just heard. In this section you can underscore the problem or remind them of what’s worth remembering. What are they supposed to do or change? Tie your closing statements to your opening grabber so the presentation feels whole and complete; you’ve come full circle. Give a clear signal that “We’re done.”

Rethink Q&A

Many presenters make the mistake of ending their presentation with the audience Q&A. They take questions from the audience and provide answers that they may not have had a chance to prepare for. This is also the section where it is easy for a speaker to lose control of the room. We recommend taking no more than six questions before bringing your presentation to a proper close with a few choice statements. You might even ask and answer your own question at the very end. For example, “One question CIOs almost always ask me is”¦.” Then provide your well thought-out answer.

Making it work

As a society, we don’t just want to be informed. We want to be entertained too. Just look at the news today compared to 30 years ago. As they say, “Educate the best, entertain the rest.”

The same holds true for presentations. The more lively and engaging you make it, the more your audience will be interested in what you have to say. Think through the structure, grab their interest from the beginning, and give them valuable insights they didn’t know before and you’ll keep your audience riveted. Then sit back and enjoy the applause.

And if you need a little help, give us a call!

Marcia Rhodes

Marcia Rhodes is an award-winning public relations and marketing communications expert with more than three decades of experience in PR, media relations, video, crisis and executive communications. She previously held PR/Marketing positions at Accenture, WorldatWork and Six Sigma Academy.