The Requirements of a Persuasive Presentation Structure

By Julie M. Hansen

In addition to serving as a frame for your presentation, your structure has other duties as well: Gaining attention, engaging your audience, and assimilating information. These sections examine some key requirements of a persuasive structure and how they help you move your prospect forward in the sale.

Gaining — and regaining — audience attention

If you’re still talking about your company and haven’t introduced value or a benefit within the first ten minutes, then your prospect is likely barely hanging on, despite the continued caffeine consumption. A good structure takes into account when prospect’s attention wanes and builds in opportunities to renew her attention at these critical junctures. Here are some proven ways to grab attention that you can build into your presentation’s structure:

  • Introducing novelty: In order to survive, humans had to quickly decide whether new information was dangerous or critical to their survival. The result: People’s attention is drawn to new and unusual things. A structure that introduces something new at key points within your presentation, whether it’s introducing a new topic, telling a story, or interacting with your prospect, keeps your audience’s limited attention on you and off their mobile devices.

  • Engaging the senses: A police siren. A rain shower. The smell of fresh bread. Anything that engages one of the five (and for some of you six) senses naturally grabs your audience’s attention. Although using smell and taste in your presentation is difficult (and perhaps risky), adding visual support whether it’s a picture, a whiteboard, or a prop can improve audience engagement and message retention.

  • Triggering emotions: Emotions are powerful magnets for drawing attention that the entertainment industry knows how to play for full advantage. In business, emotions are, shall I say, a bit more restrained? Yet when you incorporate them in an appropriate and relevant way — with a story or an insight or a challenge — at strategic points within your structure (like the opening), you can engage a prospect on an emotional level. Doing so is a sure way to draw valuable attention to your message or make a memorable point.

  • Responding to movement: You could be in a room with Tony Robbins, Jimmy Fallon, and Tina Fey yet if someone else entered the room, you would likely turn to look. Humans are wired to respond to movement — a holdover from days spent running from predators. Although predators are less likely to pounce, movement is still a strong and sure attention-grabber that you can build into your presentation. Walking to the other side of the room, writing on a flipchart or whiteboard, and incorporating simple movements when you know your audiences’ attention is on the decline are simple ways to keep your audience engaged while you focus on delivering your message.

Conveying information in an easy to assimilate way

Organizing your message in a way that your prospect has the best chance of understanding and remembering it is important. Most sales presentations are structured around how their product or service works or the areas of strength for the presenter’s company. Nothing about this organization is of great interest to your prospect or easy for them to remember.

A good structure is customer-focused and organizes information around your prospect’s challenges and needs or use patterns as opposed to what you do or how you do it. Here are some ways to get your message across in a way that your audience will more readily understand and remember:

  • Chunking: Breaking information into small bite-size pieces (called chunking) makes the presentation easier to understand and remember. For many years the magic number that people were thought to be able to easily remember (without repetition and practice) was seven (plus or minus 2). Researchers have since disproven that theory and found that the actual number of items that people can remember is closer to three or four. As a result, most sales presentations have no chance of being remembered by prospects today. A good structure breaks information into manageable chunks that your audience can easily digest and remember. The figure shows breaking information in to chunks.

    In Figure A, your prospect is presented with a list of 10 items — much too many for her to remember. In Figure B, those same 10 items are chunked into four groups that make it easier for her to understand and retain.

  • Spacing repetition: Not surprisingly, throwing a steady stream of new information at your prospect isn’t conducive to developing a clear understanding or memory of it. Research has found that you can increase learning by up to 50 percent by using what’s called spaced learning, or repeating information at various intervals. Use this concept in your presentation by breaking up information and then referring back to it at later points to reinforce those ideas and messages you most want to stick.

    An example slide with a list of ten items (a), and an example slide of chunking (b). [Credit: Illus

    Credit: Illustration by 24Slides
    An example slide with a list of ten items (a), and an example slide of chunking (b).

Highlighting value

You want your prospect to remember the benefits and value that she’ll receive from your solution. Yet if repetition and engagement influence memory, then most sales presentations aren’t effective at reinforcing benefits or value. A persuasive structure allows you to call attention to benefits and place a spotlight on value so that your prospect remembers what’s important when she is prepared to make a decision.

Allowing for interaction

Most sales presentations are one long monologue. Very few circumstances today require people to sit and listen to someone talk without interruption for longer than a few minutes at a time (unless it’s a lecture, a political speech, or a religious service), yet most sales presentations are structured that way. Having a presentation structure that encourages and plans for audience interaction at strategic points helps to renew your prospect’s attention, because it involves more of her senses and improves her ability to remember your message.

Persuading to take action

You can structure a presentation many different ways, but in sales, your sales presentation first and foremost needs to be designed to persuade your prospect to take action at the end.