Paul White, who founded the CBS news division in 1933, is credited with the most successful formula for broadcast news presentation:
Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em.
Tell ’em what you told ’em.
Because it works so well for news, it is frequently offered as a template for business presentations and may well be the most commonly quoted advice for preparing a presentation. We copied and pasted the formula into the search box at Google and got 16,400,000 hits. Every one of the hits on the first page styled itself as advice for public speaking.
For informational presentations, White’s formula works very well. But these days, if you’re going to bring people together to witness a presentation, there really needs to be a goal beyond providing information. This is particularly true at the executive level. If you’re an executive, you may need to generate excitement for a product rollout, persuade an audience to embrace an initiative, or get buy-in for an unwelcome policy change. And for these occasions, White’s formula is useless.
If your presentation really needs to accomplish something, it should have five parts.
- Opener.This gets the audience’s attention and sets them up for receiving your message. The most powerful openers highlight a problem, an opportunity, or a weakness. Your goal here is to make certain the audience is aware of the disease before you offer the cure.
- Message.This is the vision of the future you want the audience to adopt, whether it’s to dig out of the hole created by the bad news you’re delivering, adopt the initiative you are sponsoring, or buy the product you’re offering.
- Benefits.This is a simple statement of how the lives of the audience will be improved by your idea, whether it’s a product or an argument. Maybe your message is going to make them more secure in their jobs, or let them spend more time with their families, or improve their health. You just need to make sure they can see a personal benefit in what you’re offering. If you can’t find a personal benefit to highlight for them, maybe you should rethink the need to give this presentation.
- Support.This, which may be the bulk of your presentation, is proof that your message will offer the benefits you say it will. It’s the data, expertise, case studies, images, or stories that persuade the audience your promise is real.
- Action.The best way to get buy-in for your message is to ask the audience to take a specific step. This step prevents them from putting off the decision and gets them working together. This call to action must have a deadline: “Before we leave here today…” What action step will they take? You might ask them to vote, sign something, call somebody, or even just shout out their support. Be creative.
The five-step template is one of the most reliable ways to structure a business presentation, but it’s not the only one.