If you want to be a great presenter, work on 3 things: resonance, design and delivery.


I’ve borrowed this title from Nancy Duarte. Nancy is founder of (a presentation company) and a leading expert on presentation, along with Garr Reynolds, author of Presentation Zen.

Nancy wrote HBR’s guide to Persuasive Presentations, and three additional books: Slideology, Resonate and Illuminate.

It’s the perfect title because resonance is what every presenter wants.

Resonance leads to change. Audience members (just like objects) tend to remain at rest unless some compelling force moves them to action…to change.

How do you achieve resonance?

When something resonates with me, I feel it. I am impacted by it. It has the power to affect change in me.

If those are the results you’re going for, as a presenter, two foundational underpinnings for your message are knowing your purpose/audience and being persuasive. These really are two sides of the same coin. You cannot be persuasive without knowing your audience.

Benefits are key. You must stress the benefit of the message to your audience if you want your audience to care about your message. In other words, what’s in it for them?

Knowing them well enough to answer that question helps you design a message that resonates with them and has the power to persuade them.

Purpose & Audience

Effective communicators always start with purpose and audience.

First, you have to know your goal/objective…the end result you hope to gain. Second, seek to learn all you can about your target/demographic audience.

Garr Reynolds reframes these as So what? Who cares?

So what? = What is my purpose?
Who cares? = Who is my audience?

Knowing your purpose as a presenter gives you clarity and fuels your passion.

Why does your presentation matter?
What is the one key takeaway?

You don’t have to state your purpose explicitly (Ladies and gentlemen the purpose of my being here today is…), but you can. If you don’t, it still needs to be crystal clear from the content, delivery, and design of your message.

Knowing your audience means tapping into what interests them, what they care about, their fears, their wants, their concerns, their problems.

You don’t want to talk over your audience members’ heads and you don’t want to talk below them. You want to meet them where they are.

A presentation is a partnership between the presenter and the audience.

Great presentations are not about making the speaker look good. They are about giving value to the audience, the members that Donald Miller says in his Storybrand workshops, are the heroes of the event. The speaker’s role is one of mentor.

Like a good mentor, a good presenter knows his audience, cares about his audience, and seeks to give value to his audience. The better you know them, the more accurately you can choose content, visuals and illustrations that appeal to them.

You’ll feel the energy when an audience is truly interested and engaged in your content. Nothing bolsters your confidence like an engaged audience.

In Nancy’s TED Talk, The secret structure of great talks, she says  great presenters like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Steve Jobs take audience needs/wants heavily into consideration when they use a tension of “what could be” vs. “what currently is.”

It’s an engaging technique. If you really want your message to strike home–to resonate–you have to know what appeals to your audience.

Persuasion: Ethos, Pathos, Logos

Every presentation is a sales pitch. By the nature of it, you’re convincing someone of something.

You want the listener to buy what you’re selling, adopt your way of thinking, believe something about you…that you are worthy of listening to, worthy of hiring, partnering with, investing in…something.

Aristotle said there were three elements of persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos. (See Andrew Dlugan’s article: Ethos, Pathos, Logos: 3 pillars of public speaking about Aristotle’s Elements of Persuasion).

Ethos is credibility.

Without credibility, your chances of persuading are poor. (See more about credibility on the topic of Professionalism, under Job Search Skills.)

Preparation is key to credibility. Your audience will know if you have prepared (and respect it) or if you haven’t (and will resent the misuse of their time).

If you speak to an audience of 20 people for 30 minutes, that is 600 minutes of collective time. If you’re a professional and speak to an audience of 1,000 for 60 minutes, that is 60,000 minutes of people’s time! Time is precious. Don’t disrespect your audience’s time by underpreparing.

There is no substitute for preparation. It is the number one way to boost your confidence and credibility.

Using timely tie-ins, like weaving current news stories and/or world events into your presentation, is another way to lend interest and credibility.

Pathos is emotion.

To truly connect with an audience, you must remember they have hearts.

Tap into their heartstrings…help them feel, taste, touch, hear and experience how your message, product or service has the power to impact them positively, or how the lack of it might impact them negatively.

Two of my favorite examples of an emotional message:

Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign “You’re more beautiful than you think”

Volkswagen’s Darth Vader Commercial, Superbowl 2011

Nancy Duarte talks about the impact of STAR moments: something they’ll always remember. Two examples of STAR moments:

My stroke of insight (Jill Bolte Taylor_18.:34_brings a human brain on stage)

Mosquitos, malaria, and education (Bill Gates_20:13_releases mosquitos into the audience)

A word on humor…humor can be an especially powerful emotion to tap into. But nothing backfires more quickly than a planned joke gone awry…that no one laughs at…or only laughs at out of sympathy for the speaker who delivered it poorly.

If you’re really funny (meaning, you’re not the only one who thinks so) and you can use humor at no one else’s expense, then by all means, be yourself. But if there is any question as to your true comic genius in front of a crowd, or if your “jokes” put anyone in an unfavorable light, don’t use humor.

The happy secret to better work (Shawn Achor_12:17_truly funny)

Self-deprecating humor can endear you to your audience, but you don’t want to sabotage your credibility for the sake of trying to manufacture a laugh. It will show.

Logos is logic.

To truly convince an audience, you must remember they have heads. Appeal to their sense of intelligence and intuition. Show them the tangible benefit.

Examples of logical arguments:

“I can show you how to save $50 on your next grocery bill. Interested?”

“Want to double the number of visitors to your website? I can show you how.”

To craft an effective logical argument, answer three questions:

  • What is my position?
  • What reasons support my position?
  • What evidence supports my reasons?

Evidence and objections are key considerations in logic.

Where lies the evidence for your claims? And what are the objections? When you acknowledge the objections to your arguments and give logical explanations to address them, you stand a better chance of winning your audience over.

Persuasive messages abound in the workplace. Recommendations, requests, proposals, grants, claims and sales messages all require persuasion.

Advertisers and marketers lean heavily on the elements of persuasion. A common advertising acronym is AIDA:

gain Attention
build Interest
create Desire
motivate to Action

Sticky Principles

You want to craft messages that not only resonate, but that will be remembered.

Brothers Chip and Dan Heath wrote a book called Made to Stick. In it, they outline six “sticky principles” that make messages memorable. (See this article for an overview: 6 ways to help your messages “stick”.)




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