The One Question Every Presenter Should Ask

Clients often ask us to review major presentations at the eleventh hour, hoping we can make the tweaks that will take their material from good to great. In the best cases, our job is to put icing on the cake and who doesn't love to do that? 

But sometimes, the cake isn't ready for icing. In fact, in some cases, everyone is still scrambling around, trying to find the ingredients.

Often those frantic, final meetings are spent searching for photos, fretting over font sizes, adjusting bullets and reordering slides ad nauseum.

While we applaud efforts to continually edit and refine (there's always room for improvement), too often those last-minute efforts are misguided. In fact, the weeks of planning and preparation beforehand are often misguided too. That's because while the team was wrangling over minutia, they forgot to ask the most important question of all: "What's the goal?"

When we ask---and answer---that simple question at the outset, something magical happens: All the other details somehow just fall into place.

The introduction is suddenly obvious.

The slides all point to a singular argument.

Relevant stories, examples and analogies naturally work themselves into the script.

And the closing statement practically writes itself.

All because at the outset, someone asked---and answered---that critical question: "What's the goal?"

Try writing that on a sticky note and posting it to your computer screen. Or if you're working as a team, consider taping it to the conference room wall. You'll be surprised at how much perfunctory content you can suddenly scrap, making way for fresh ideas that are far more impactful.

For example, if the goal is to justify the purchase of new software to the Board, instead of beginning with the technical specs, perhaps you opt to start with the story of how outdated technology almost cost a key account.

If your goal is to attract new talent, rather than bullet-pointing the company's attributes, maybe you begin with a full-screen picture of your latest, cool company outing.

If your goal is to sign a new customer, instead of talking endlessly about your company history, perhaps you share three case studies, demonstrating how you've solved problems similar to theirs for customers in the past.

These are bold strategic moves that can dramatically improve a presentation and its impact. But to attempt them, or even conceive of them, presenters must first have laser sharp focus on their goal.

The next time you're tasked with creating a presentation, pause a few moments before launching into your normal drill. Don't rush to open a new PowerPoint file---or (gasp!) repurpose an old one. Instead, simply take a breath and ask the one question every presenter must ask "What's the goal?"

You---and your audience---will be happily surprised by the result.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, visit, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.