When we begin preparing a presentation, of whatever kind, we should first consider what it is that we want to communicate. And when we begin to think about the ‘How?’, the first step is to build a structure for the message which will convey that. The structure of the message is nothing other than the inner logic of the speech which makes sense in itself, and which is going to be the support for what we want to communicate. In other words, it is our presentation’s skeleton. Without a good skeleton, without a good structure for the message, it will lack force and impact, it will not invite change or stir people’s consciences, and it will be completely bland.
One of the classic structures for presentations which are designed to sell something (a new product, a project, an idea, etc.) is the one which is common to all those presentations of televised ‘infomercials’ . Take a look at them, and see whether you can identify the structure that underlies each of them.
It’s clear, isn’t it? First, one sends the message that something is wrong, that there is a problem, something which is uncomfortable or which is not adapted to the client’s needs. Then, having planted the seed of necessity, one immediately follows up by showing the solution, the product which one is trying to sell. Finally, knowing that the buyer is already convinced, one sends out the call: “Buy now!”. We call this structure “Problem/Solution/Call”, and it has been used ever since anyone has wanted sell something to a potential buyer. Let’s see how it works.
Problem: What’s the problem?
To begin a presentation, there is nothing more powerful than a demonstration that there is a problem which requires a solution. Moreover, as you will have noticed in the various ‘infomercials’ which you saw earlier, the most effective way to do this is to behave as if there could be no doubt that this is a universal problem, even if this is not true. “Has it never occurred to you that…?”, “Do you realize that whenever…?”, “Aren’t you fed up of fighting with…?” are some of the usual formulations. The aim is that the audience will not only understand that there is a problem, but they will also understand that it is their problem, something personal, as if it had once happened to them. This connection is what is going to arouse interest, because the listener is going to confuse it with a need, so we already have someone who is going to pay attention to the rest of the presentation.
Don’t stint on details, examples, demonstrations or analogies. This is a demonstration, and we don’t yet want to convince people to buy our product ‒ simply that there is a real problem which requires a solution (which we shall present later). You can harp on the imperfections of the competition, you can focus on the lack of an ideal product, but you should always do this from the negative side, from something that is missing, that something which we have up our sleeve, ready to bring peace, to satisfy the need which is emerging. The moment when we have our audience convinced of the need is the moment when we can bring out the heavy artillery.
Solution: Don’t worry; we’ve got the solution.
The moment has arrived to present our product as if it were a balm, a cure, a magic potion which (what a coincidence!) solves the problem mentioned earlier. Not only does it solve the problem, it also remedies all inconvenience, supplies anything missing, improves the existing version, and raises it to a higher level. So the effect is that of a balm. We try to create a feeling of placidity, associated with our product, in the minds of our audience. We had, of necessity, placed them in an uncomfortable position, and it is now time to get them out of there and bring them over to our territory. It is therefore time to tell them everything that is relevant and special about our product. We must sing its praises, omitting nothing, and above all, we must not forget to confirm that each and every one of the disadvantages which we mentioned earlier has the same remedy: our product. Leave the audience softened up, 100% certain that this product is for them, that it could have been designed for their needs, that they need it and want it.
The Call: Let’s do business.
We now only need to push them towards buying (or to do what we want them to do). This what some people call the ‘call-to-action’, the incitement to do something, encouraging, pushing, inviting, through our presentation. Tell them what you want them to do (to buy, take action, get in contact, tell other people) and make it clear what they will receive in return (the ROI, any kind of benefits, self-satisfaction, improving the world, etc.). Don’t forget to make it clear how they can do this (by leaving clear instructions, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, websites, etc.), because they will want to do this, and you will want them to do it. So let’s do business.
Of course, this structure is not the only one, and it does not have to be the ideal one for all our presentations, but its extensive use vouches for it as a dependable asset in many contexts, because it is simple, direct and communicative. You should always weigh up whether it is the ideal structure, but always consider it, because it will usually be the one which will enable you to have a direct impact on your audience.
Marc Ambit – Consultant and teacher at TBS Barcelona Campus