1. Meek, Julie A. PhD, RN, CNS

Article Content

Presenting with power unleashes the potential to capture the attention and interest of an audience and engages them in supporting the presenter's ideas. This article focuses on creative ways to present with power for positive business outcomes. Creating a great first impression, crafting an "elevator speech," creating visual stories, and avoiding common mistakes are important skills to develop when making high-stakes presentations.



The old adage "one only has one chance to make a first impression" certainly comes to mind when presenting to influence a key decision or outcome. Nathan Gold1 provides a simple acronym, SAME, which can be used as a guide for making a great first impression. Start the presentation with a brief biographical introduction with a story and a smile, the "S" in SAME. People remember stories. Begin presentations with a story that captivates the audience and makes them want to hear more. Wortmann2 suggests creating a story matrix in ways that draw upon the audience's emotion and values so that they leave remembering the story and its connection to the presenter's ideas. Often the most difficult part of presenting is just getting started. Approaching the presentation with a smile having memorized the first few sentences of an introductory story can ease the start of the presentation and build confidence.3 When presenting from a podium, be sure to maintain eye contact and move toward the audience. Avoid standing stiffly behind a podium. As an example, consider how talk show hosts pull audiences in at the beginning of the show by smiling, making eye contact, and using the full length and depth of the stage. Find your comfort zone for engaging the audience.


After opening with a compelling story, move next to "A" for analogy. Even complex ideas can be quickly described by creating analogies to things or ideas that are very familiar to people. Wortmann2 told the story of a chief executive officer who used the analogy of a ski lift that mechanically takes the work out of climbing to the top of a mountain to enjoy the bliss of skiing down the slope. Likewise, his motorized surf board took the work out of paddling out to the ocean to enjoy surfing the next big wave. The analogy creates an instant understanding of the value of his product in ways that are memorable.


The "M" stands for metaphor, and the "E" stands for examples. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness, or analogy, between them.4 Metaphors and analogies can be powerful as examples because they unravel complexities, create meaning, and are more easily remembered.


Open with a smile and a story then illustrate who you are and what you do with metaphors and analogies. These are winning ways to initially captivate and engage an audience.



If it's true that about 12 seconds, or the length of an elevator ride, is all the time available to deliver the key value of a business or idea, then it's imperative to craft an "elevator speech" that really delivers. In Getting to "Wow"! Bill Reichert5 provides a guide to writing powerful "wow statements" in plain English that everyone can understand. Reichert described a 4-step process as follows:


1. "Context. State what it is that you do better than anyone else in simple, easy-to-understand words."



Example: [My company] has developed a [product, service, or improvement] that [problem the product, service or improvement solves].


2. "Benefit. Clarify your unique benefit or advantage. One trick to help you phrase this sentence is to begin with, 'The big idea behind SuperCo is[horizontal ellipsis].' Getting this clear benefit right is the core to your success in communicating your value proposition. What is the central big idea? And for whom is this a big benefit? Often the problem you are solving is obvious, but if it isn't, you need to put your benefit in context."



Example: Because [restate the problem], our [product, service, or improvement] [list the key benefit, eg, decreases patient falls by up to 2.5 times], as we've shown with [list who benefits, eg, 3 beta customers].


3. "Differentiation. Clarify how you are different from the competition and the alternatives. One way to help you phrase this sentence is to begin with: "Unlike other companies that offer[horizontal ellipsis]." Do not say that you have no competition or that no one else can do what you can do (entrepreneur lie no. 5). Instead, state your key point of differentiation and compelling advantage over the next best solution to the problem."



Example: Because we use [unique approach], unlike alternative solutions that require [standard approach], we can [key benefit, eg, save our customers 40% of their total costs].


4. "Call to action. Wrap up with something that gets your listener to actively engage. Your goal is to affect their behavior, to get them to do something-like inviting you in to talk more. This might be your 'mantra' or tagline, along with a call to action."



Example: Bottom line, [my company] [list key benefit, eg, reduces patient falls, thereby increasing revenues by increasing quality metrics key to maximizing reimbursements] for [whom? eg, accountable care organizations]. [Insert how/what/where question that can't be answered yes/no, eg, when would you like to start a pilot?].



Recently, an academic health center audience packed the house to hear Dr Zubin Damania's compelling story about how he changed the model for primary care in Las Vegas, Nevada.6 Propelled by an investment from Tony Hsieh, chief executive officer of, Damania created Turntable Health, a model for primary care that truly is inspiring health systems around the country. The audience was transfixed, laughing, crying, and completely attentive because Damania used visual storytelling. Picture after picture created metaphors and analogies that not only compelled the audience to consider the ravages and poor outcomes of our current dysfunctional healthcare system, but also compelled the audience to move forward to do something about it.


Visual storytelling helps an audience buy into ideas and take action better than a flat text presentation. A key goal is to bring out people's emotions, to tug at their heartstrings. Reichert5 discussed 4 key ways to bring out the emotion from an audience. The first way is to talk about money[horizontal ellipsis] saving, spending, making, or losing money. The second is to tap into other key human needs such as safety, security, and self-preservation. All people understand and long to protect these core needs. The third is recognition. Everyone wants to be recognized, to be acknowledged as being worthy or valued. The fourth is to inspire by creating visual images of new experiences or the promise of something better in the future. This is what Damania did so well-his primary care model puts doctors and patients at the center of the healthcare universe, cared for holistically with patients connected to their doctors in value-driven, convenient, and timesaving ways that help them feel better faster while knowing their doctor truly has the support to care about them.



There are several categories of simple, common mistakes to always avoid. The first category is lack of preparation, which includes showing up late because travel time or directions were not considered, not setting up and testing equipment prior to the presentation, not knowing how much time has been given for the presentation, or not knowing key characteristics or needs of the target audience. The second category involves common presentation errors. Nervousness and the stress of the moment can overshadow even the most-prepared speakers. Often nervousness takes the form of stammering, or saying "um, um, um," or using words repeatedly such as "basically" or "like," or "body fidgets" in various forms. These behaviors totally distract the audience, and the message gets lost. Begin with a deep breath, visualize success, and create a moment of calm before starting the presentation. Then start with a story and a smile. A third category of mistakes are "first" presentation related. A key principle in sales, particularly in a first meeting, is that the customer should be talking about 80% of the time. Should the presentation take too long, it runs the risk of leaving little time for engaging a customer. For this reason, it is advised to keep the presentation quite short and to the point leaving plenty of time for discussion. Avoid detailed product demonstrations at a first customer meeting so time is not consumed with product details and time runs out for customer engagement. The fourth category of common mistakes relate to the rules of etiquette. Given varying dress codes for workers across industries, take time to know how to dress in ways that fit in with the customer. A clean and well-groomed presenter can dress in a range of styles and still be perceived as credible. Be aware of cultural sensitivities in the use of pictures, words, or jokes that would cause anyone in the audience to be offended. Show up on time and finish on time. Use proper grammar and manners when presenting and greeting audience members. Online presentations present additional etiquette challenges. Varying Internet speeds can slow the appearance of the next slide, so pause and occasionally reorient the audience to make sure all can see the current screen. Be sure to close all other applications such as e-mail, instant messaging, or Web sites that could present confidential or embarrassing information if accidentally clicked. Pause and call on various listener locations to elicit questions without people feeling they might be jumping on top of another voice in the audience. Repeat the question, if the audience is large, and there might be some who can't hear an audience member.



Both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs have reasons to make powerful and persuasive presentations. A well-constructed and executed presentation garners an audience's attention, convinces them of solutions, and calls them to action. Using the techniques described in this article to create a great first impression, deliver a concise elevator pitch, visually present one's story, and avoid common mistakes will help gain and keep clients and earn most-favored decisions by communicating and presenting ideas, businesses, products, and services in more compelling ways.




1. Gold N. First impressions. Accessed May 12, 2015. [Context Link]


2. Wortmann C. What's Your Story? 2nd ed. Evanston, IL: Sales Engine; 2012. [Context Link]


3. Meers C. Nailing the first sentence. Accessed May 12, 2015. [Context Link]


4. Definition of "metaphor". Accessed May 12, 2015. [Context Link]


5. Reichert B. Getting to "Wow"! Accessed May 12, 2015. [Context Link]


6. Damania Z. Are you nuts for prevention? TEDMED, 2013. Accessed May 12, 2015. [Context Link]