Aug 17, 2009 at 02:49 PM
written by Joe Waters

11 Ways to Kick Ass in Your Next Presentation

Powerful presentations are the backbone of most successful cause marketing pitches. Whether you’re talking to one person or a hundred, the ability to speak compellingly, sincerely and briefly can be a deciding factors in earning a company’s cause business.

I have no doubt that speaking well has made a huge difference in my success. Representing a small, relatively unknown hospital in Boston requires not only better ideas than our competition, but also the eloquence to make them glow more brightly.

So in the spirit of the bright and hot summer sun, which we are just starting to enjoy here in Boston, here are 11 ways to make sure your next cause marketing presentation is the hottest and brightest thing in the room.

In battle the eyes are defeated first. I hate to admit it, because I like my comfy jeans as much as anyone, but clothes do matter. A professional appearance sets the right tone for business presentations. Most companies expect nonprofit types to show up in a hemp shirt and sandals. Show them that you’re more like them than their stereotype and you’ll have a better chance of earning their trust and business.

Start with the unexpected. Don’t–I repeat, DON’T–start by talking about your nonprofit (a.k.a. The egocentric, bloodsucking charity that everyone expects.). It’s a big turn-off. Start by talking about your prospect, the proposal, their competitors and how you plan to help them accomplish their goals. By the time you get around to talking about yourself, it will be the cherry on the sundae.

Easy on the slides. There’s a terrible addiction out there to PowerPoint. Everyone wants a million slides to cover every word they say, but what they’re really doing is hiding behind an electronic podium. My simple rule: only use a slide when what you want to say isn’t best said with words. This will limit your slides to pictures, video and the occasional graph. That’s it. Remember, YOU are your best visual aid.

Be yourself at your best. Not all of us are marked to be great speakers, but as communicators we all do something well. Maybe you explain things well. You’re organized. You’re inspiring. You’re concise. You’re a great storyteller. Build your presentation around what you do best. Let your strengths do the work.

Tap the power of “team speaking.” Just as everyone does something well, team speaking aggregates those talents into one fabulous presentation. For example, when I give presentations I often do the overview of cause marketing and my nonprofit’s program. But I tap more knowledgeable members of my team to speak on specific programs. The mix of speakers works well, shares the chore of speaking with others and gives listeners some much needed variety.

Follow the 50/50 rule. Speaking is different from other forms of communication. Unlike a proposal where a prospect can reread areas whenever they want, speeches go in one ear and probably out the other. That’s why your speech should be evenly balanced between new material and (pre)review of what you’ve already said. (Pre)review can take many forms. “This point is important…” “The three areas we’ll cover…” “Now that we’ve talked about point-of-sale, let’s talk about licensing…”

Channel you inner Letterman. Besides Presidents Obama and Clinton, people really don’t look up to statesmen as models of great communicators anymore. They think of Conan and Leno and Larry King and Jon Stewart and Oprah and other celebs. What do these stars share? They’re engaging, funny, conversational, empathetic, and have a lot of different ways of making their points stick. In short, think of your presentation as a sort of a mini-talk show. You’re the host. You have an audience that you need to woo, move, impress and, yes, entertain. You’ll do that through laughter, compelling dialogue, technology and guests. Got it?

If you’re nervous, you’re lucky. That’s just the type of energy jolt you’ll need to rev you up for a presentation. Your shakes aren’t a liability. They are a symptom of the high octane fuel running through your veins that needs to be put to good use. Stop viewing the jitters as a bad thing. Be thankful that you’re a live wire and share the electricity!

We’re not impressed that you can read. Good public speaking is not about reading your notes. Listeners expect eye contact, impromptu speaking and, if the setting permits, conversation. That’s not to say that you should never bring notes to a presentation. I personally like when you do. It shows me that you’ve put some preparation into your speech. Now show me them know the difference between reading and speaking.

Boil it down. A good speech has many components, but it should always boil down to one action item. For me, it’s often something that’s not even very big, just an important next step in moving the potential partnership forward (Note: You’re not delivering the Gettysburg Address. Your speech isn’t going to change the world. Get over yourself and be practical, tangible and realistic.). Make it clear for them by the end of your speech: what is it that you want them to do.

Shut up. Over a hundred years ago Mark Twain said “Few sinners are saved after the first twenty-minutes of a sermon.” How many cause marketing prospects could you close in the first 20 minutes of a presentation? If you use your time well, A LOT! People tend to blather on and on these days with no purpose in sight. Again, do the unexpected: respect your prospect’s time and deliver a compressed, relevant, powerful pitch. Then shut up and sit down.


Joe Waters is currently the Director of Cause Marketing for Boston Medical Center, an avid blogger and a rabid Boston Red Sox fan. Joe can be reached at Joe.Waters@bmc.org and followed on twitter at @joewaters and be sure to check out all of his related posts.