I had an interesting and lively discussion this week during an in-house training session for one of my clients. The firm does a lot of work for government and municipal bodies and some of the staff were uncomfortable at my notion that one of the goals of a good presentation should be to persuade the audience.
They argued that they deal in facts and their role is often to be objective, not to render an opinion. Now, my years as a journalist taught me all about the myth of objectivity. Even if we stick to facts over opinions, the selection of facts is still a subjective process. The best we can hope for is an accurate portrayal of both sides of an issue.
But even in a seemingly “information-only” presentation, I think you need to be persuasive. To begin with, your audience must believe that you know what the hell you’re talking about. Establishing your credibility is a form of persuasion.
The worst presentations are always the ones where the speakers appear to have no stake in the game. They recite boring statements or read PowerPoint bullets in a dispassionate monotone. That makes it hard for us to retain anything from the presentation but it also makes us wonder about the abilities of the presenter. It is no longer good enough to be a great widget maker you also have to be able to speak passionately about widgets. Look at Steve Jobs.
Every time we stand up to speak we create an opportunity. It may be to show how qualified we are or how well we’ve prepared the material or it may be to show that we are ready to take on new and more difficult challenges. By showing our commitment to the presentation we engage our audience and in doing so, we can be persuasive.