How to create a winning presentation

The key to an effective presentation is to make your message simple and genuine, writes professional communicator Emma Bannister

How to create a winning presentation

by Emma Bannister

Every time I go to speak or train at a different company, I get the same response: “You make presentations sound so simple. I get it, but I don’t get how I get buy-in from everyone else.”

The goal of any presentation is to influence your audience to act. Maybe you want your employees to get on board with your new vision or idea, or to motivate your client toward a new outcome. You want to make them feel excited, inspired or raring to go.

Yet nine out of 10 times, at the completion of a presentation, you’re probably met with chirruping crickets, blank faces or stifled yawns (if your audience hasn’t fled the room). So what gives?

Make a point
You can only claim that you have a ‘winning presentation’ if your presentation achieves what you wanted it to achieve. If your audience does what you want them to do and they respond in the way you want them to respond, that’s how you measure the success of your presentation.

The problem most of us trip up on is that you need to think about the behaviour of your audience long before you start talking. All too often, when I ask a speaker what their objective is, they don’t know. They can’t tell me why they are presenting (other than because they’ve been told to), or what they want the audience to feel, act or do after they have seen the presentation. You have to be 100% clear on the purpose of your presentation.

Be human
The key challenge we all face, regardless of industry, is that the world is more and more competitive every day. It’s harder than ever to stand out and be noticed, and to communicate your point of view with the right people in the right way.

One thing that’s not going to help is using business or corporate jargon as a crutch. All this does is create unnatural, overcomplicated messages that people can’t engage with. What the world needs today – what your customers, clients, stakeholders and team members are crying out for – is natural, human-to-human connection through compelling visuals and emotional stories.

In business, we’ve been taught to stick to the facts and leave out any hint of emotion, yet research proves that our decisions – whether we buy or buy into something – are influenced by our emotions.

Remember, people buy from people they like. So you need to make your audience feel something toward you other than the urge to flee the room. The best presenters are those who can use a combination of facts and emotions to explain a future place that everyone wants to work toward.

Use images and video to create excitement, inspiration or action, if it’s appropriate to your cause. Pair these with infographics and diagrams that sum up your main points and data. I’ve also seen people use videos to successfully create something that tugs at the heartstrings and lingers for a long time in everyone’s memory.

When you share your vision and goals through compelling stories and slides, you reduce fear and instill confidence in your audience. That’s when they will connect to a future they want to be a part of.

Own up and own it
Many of us believe that sharing everything and anything and blinding our audience with numbers is the best way to be transparent and open when it comes to a presentation, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. This will only put off the people you are trying to engage and make them lose interest faster.

It’s more important than ever to cut out all the clutter from your presentation. A powerful presentation has content that is clear, easy to understand, and uses simple language and images to connect with and engage your audience through a balance of emotion and analytics. Your audience will leave the presentation feeling different – inspired or excited to act on what you want them to do.

A poor presentation, on the other hand, has content that is overloaded with facts, stats, numbers, corporate jargon and dense text. It leaves the audience feeling confused, turned off and disengaged. They will leave the room with no idea of what to do next – except never attend one of your presentations again.

You must be clear and honest in your presentation. It’s also important not to try to hide or cover up negative information or numbers. Nothing turns clients or customers off more than when you lie about your financial position.

You need to be future-focused and take ownership of any problems. Explain the steps you’re implementing to turn things around to minimize loss, and get your team involved to help with this, too.

Be open and honest about where you are right now and what’s involved in the journey to get where you’re going – together. Leave your audience inspired, not deflated like it’s their fault or you’re looking for an out.

Bad slides and presentations are used like a security blanket to hide things under. So start with small changes to your content and attitude, and stop hiding and hoping for the best. Your customers, clients and team members will respect you for that.

Emma Bannister is passionate about presenting big, bold and beautiful ideas. She is the founder and CEO of Presentation Studio and the author of Visual Thinking: How to Transform the Way You Think, Communicate and Influence with Presentations. Find out more at