Influencing Audiences

Conversational Presentations Have Value

Delivering a one-on-one presentation over breakfast
There is no doubt that conversational presentations have value.

Let’s suppose you arrange a breakfast meeting with a colleague, client or boss. You’re presenting a new idea to the other person, with the goal of obtaining buy-in or approval. You finish breakfast, then devote fifteen or twenty minutes to business.

Would you be able to talk intelligently to the other person about the idea? Of course. Would you get buy-in? Maybe. Maybe not. A variety of factors could determine that. But let’s suppose you do.

How many slides did you need to explain your idea? You might draw a picture on a napkin or piece of paper, or show a single image on your tablet or phone, if needed, but you would simply carry on the conversation.

Let’s suppose you receive approval to proceed. Then, the person says: “I’d like you to talk to the rest of our group about this idea. There are implications across our organization that I’d like them to hear about.”

You learn that the group is comprised of about ten people at a similar level to your early morning partner. The group has a fairly similar perspective about the issue you’re going to present. You’ll get forty-five minutes on the agenda; you’ll have more time to speak to ten people than you did to one.

How many visuals will you use now?

If you’re like most, you’ll sit down at your favourite slideware program (PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi, Google Slides, Haiku Deck), click your mouse and begin organizing your ideas.

But enough about you. Let’s talk about the audience.

Specifically, let’s talk about your breakfast partner and examine how he or she processes information to understand your idea. Does the way your breakfast partner receives your idea suddenly change from hearing it one-on-one, to when he or she is part of a small group listening to the same person talk about the same concept with the same expected outcome?

No, it doesn't. You change. But should you? Believe it or not, you shouldn't.

To be most effective at helping everyone understand,
the research is clear. You should carry on a similar conversation with the group that you did over breakfast. Give them information. Get to the point. Answer questions. Guide them to the conclusion.

I’ve seen this scenario play out when someone presents to a group with the anticipated outcome of getting a decision, such as budget approval. It may even occur when the decision is supposed to be a slam-dunk. The logic is boiled down to slides that are projected, printed, or both. The presenter believes the slides perfect, but the decision is tabled.

Later, the presenter has a ten-minute conversation with each decision-maker. At the next meeting, the decision is made without second thought. There are many people who now sell their ideas in advance. It’s a sound strategy, but time consuming.

Wouldn’t it be more productive to have one conversation with everyone and get a decision at the meeting? Of course it would.

But until we understand the value of turning presentations into conversations, and smaller conversations into larger ones, pre-selling the budget will be a good, albeit time-consuming, idea.


Eric Bergman helps his clients shape their presentations strategically and tell their story effectively. If enhancing presentation success is important to you or your organization, contact Eric to learn more.

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