It's not an impossible dream. In fact, it's quite simple to write a great presentation outline.
Research conducted by Stanford University has proven that audiences are 40% more likely to retain information accurately when it's presented with structure, as opposed to free-form.
While there are many ways to create structure, our clients find asking these 3 questions can take presentations from random and scattered to resonant and incredibly sticky.
When outlining the What, your goal is to develop the most realistic representation of your idea. Remember, ideas are difficult to sell because they require your audience to imagine the impact of something that doesn't yet exist. So make it tangible. Make it real. To flesh out your What, ask yourself the following clarifying questions:
What is the purpose of my idea? Another way to ask this is "What is my idea designed to accomplish?" The answer should be simple. Resist the urge to include too much information here. For example, a good purpose might be something like "In order to increase repeat purchases from heaviest users..."
- What is the immediate objective? To answer this question, describe what you're going to do to accomplish the purpose above. Again, keep it simple. Give it a recognizable label so your audience has a clear frame of reference. For example, "We will develop and launch a new loyalty app."
- What is the world like without your idea? The best presentations illustrate change between a before and after state, and position an idea as the change agent. So this question helps to define the before. Don't be shy about provoking some emotion here. "Today's customers have little reason to return other than discounts." If it feels like it might put some people on their heels, that's a good thing. "Poke the bear," because you're going to resolve their concerns with your idea.
2. So What?
If the What? describes your idea, the So What? describes what your idea will do. Answers to this line of questions can also be called benefits. Benefits themselves are powerful presentation tools, and if you quantify them well, they'll resonate powerfully with your audience. These questions will help you imagine the benefits from their perspective, and assign some values to them for extra stickiness:
- What is the change you will see as a result? Remember, your job is to position your idea as the catalyst between the before and after state. This question yields an answer that, when quantified, will illustrate how powerful that change can be. In our loyalty app example, you might say "Average time between purchases among heavy users will decrease."
- How can you quantify this change? By how much more? By how much less? How many? How frequently? Since your audience is predisposed to take inventory, help them out. These are all ways to establish numerical values that make the results of your idea's adoption real. Also keep in mind that all value is relative. The human mind is incapable of judging value except by comparing it to something else. That's why you hear expressions in advertising like "for less than the cost of a cup of coffee every day..." So when quantifying, consider statements like "more than" and "less than" and "more often than" your best friends.
- What is the cost of not embracing your idea? "The lag in frequency is leaving as much as $3 million on the table yearly." Imagine how motivating this statistic could be to your audience. Consider the impact of the absence of your idea on top-line and bottom-line financials. Consider the impact from an emotional perspective, and ask provocative questions, like "We're a 21st-century retail brand without a loyalty program. What message does that send to customers?"
3. Now What?
Instead of assuming their audiences know what to do next, best-in-class presenters deliver a powerful call to action. This section of your outline should prepare you to write a crystal clear "All you have to do to get these results is..." In other words, what do you want the audience to do as a result of hearing your message? Don't be shy. Tell them! As you prepare, consider the following:
- What action should the audience take? If you need capital, ask for an investment. If you need product, ask for inventory. If you need approval, ask for a signature. In presentations (and life), if you never ask, you'll never get to yes. Our loyalty team might say "Please approve this app development budget" as their call to action.
- What is the deadline for the action, and what is driving it? Again, your audience is only human, so they're pre-disposed to take inventory, asking themselves, "What's my timeline here?" Beat them to the punch before they give themselves time to reconsider: "To be ready in time for the seasonal rush, we’ll need to secure funds by Tuesday." You'll be surprised at how often people interpret that as "right now." Good for you!
- How will you know this was successful? Leave your audience with something in mind that you're measuring as a result of your idea. Doing this connects them to the outcome and helps them feel responsible for its success. If the loyalty team proposes "We will reach at least 50 daily downloads within 3 months," that gives the audience something to monitor and endears them to the success of the project.
It's easy to incorporate this method – and therefore a little structure – into your daily presentation prep. Asking yourself What? So What? and Now What? might make the difference between your idea's failure and success.
For some additional help, download GatherRound's 3 Questions Worksheet, and keep a copy handy for the next time you're working on selling in an idea. You might surprise yourself at how quickly you're able to assemble a powerful presentation storyline.