The 4 critical steps in any presentation – do you use them?

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“I started presenting …. even after just a few minutes I could already tell that some of the audience weren’t with meâ€

“I got this deck for a new initiative from head office, and my heart sank. I knew I had to give the briefing, and I knew after reading the deck, that my people would neither be excited nor really know what to do next.â€

“I sat in the presentation. I could tell the presenters were excited about this. But it is not clear to me where this is taking us, so I don’t think I will put much of my energy in to it … let’s see what happensâ€

Have you ever had thoughts like this, or heard your colleagues talking about these sorts of feelings? Let’s assume that the problem is not about bad use of powerpoint as a tool, which we cover in another article:

In cases like these, the issue is usually at a deeper level – the presentation structure does not harness all 4 key steps needed for a room of people who have different needs for engagement.

The 4 key steps to ensure all your audience is engaged are


                What If


Yes, I know it sounds obvious… but check out some presentations you have given or been in, and see how well they do in covering all 4 steps?

Take something like a change programme. A group of people have done a lot of work designing the programme – what the steps are, what people ‘need to understand’ – and there is a lot of content to get through. These designers / leaders believe in the need for the programme, and after all the work they have done, it feels obvious – so the job now is just for their people to understand and get on with it! So the presentation they create gets almost immediately in to ‘What’ & ‘How’. Then strangely, 10 minutes in to the presentation, the presenters feel that some of the room isn’t really engaged. What happened?! They forgot to spend real time on ‘Why’. About a third of the people will not be hooked / motivated / engaged in to the ‘What/How’, until they have felt the ‘Why’. Why are we doing this, why do I care, why do I believe you should care, why is this going to be good for the company, for society?

So – make sure you cover ‘Why’ early in the presentation, or a third of the audience is lost! And after the presentation, they will be asking the why question, and frustrating the change / initiative which the leaders feel is so obvious. Resulting in lots of wasted energy down the line.

The piece that is usually covered well is ‘What’ … what is this about, what are we doing, what do we want you to do… OK, good. The key thing here, is simply to ensure that the rules of good presentation – power(ful) point(s) - are used.

Then ‘How’ …. How is this going to happen? How do we want you to do this? The key here is to get genuine mental engagement. It is not enough to simply present the ‘How’ steps. The presenter needs to get people to talk, interact, do stuff, so that they are really internalising the ideas and how things are going to happen. This can for example, be in the form of simple table discussions as a start … “You have heard how we are going to run the change programme … you have the 6 steps written up on cards at your tables … please take 5 minutes to discuss each step, in your table groups, and agree what you feel will work well and any questions / concerns you have … and be ready to give your feedback to the room when we get back in to plenary.†There are many other types of interactive activities you can use tailored to the presentation content. Plus you may want to include follow-on work in groups. The key is to get people mentally engaged with ‘How’.

And finally ‘What If’. This, like ‘Why’, is often not given enough consideration. The presenters are so relieved to have got through the core content of the presentation, time is running short, and so the last section of the presentation is rushed. The problem is that another third of people need to know “What is going to happen, if I go away and do this ….. how are people going to react, what are the implications for other parts of the business, stakeholders … what is likely to go well, and what problems might arise … where is the Q&A, who do I go to if you have real time questions…†The presenters don’t know all the answers now – that is fine – but by giving ‘What If’ proper attention, they show they are thinking about the implications / needs of the way forward – this wraps in the third of people who need this. It also gives the presenters another opportunity to come back to the ‘Why’ – the promised land … if we do all of this, together we get to the promised land!

The flow does not always have to be linear. The key is to ensure that all 4 critical steps are covered; and I would always advise to cover ‘Why’ early on.

So there you have it:

Why ……… What ……… How ……….. What If

Peter Soer
Peter Soer
Peter combines experience as a coach, marketing leader & someone who has faced the fear of being found out. He harnesses this experience with his natural optimism & determination, to help people thrive in their work and enjoy the life they want. To achieve our dreams, we have 2 resources, time and energy – so use them well.

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