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Creating Winning Presentations for You and Your Audience

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Jerry Weissman explains how to accurately define your audience and create audience-focused presentations.

In this chapter

The key to Audience Advocacy

Accurately defining your audience

What's in It for You?

The key building block for Audience Advocacy, and a way to focus on benefits rather than features, is to constantly ask the key question: What's in it for you? It's based on the more common axiom, "What's in it for me?" I've shifted the ultimate word to you deliberately, to shift the focus from you to your audience. This shift emphasizes the ultimate need for all communicators to be focused outward, on the needs of their audience (you), rather than on their own needs (me). This is the essence of Audience Advocacy in action.

In referring to this key question, I'll use the acronym WIIFY (pronounced whiffy). By constantly seeking the WIIFY in any persuasive situation, you can ensure that your presentation stays focused on what matters most: getting your audience to move from Point A to Point B because you've given them a very good reason to make that move.

The WIIFY is the benefit to the specific audience in your persuasive situation. There will usually be one overarching, grand WIIFY that unites the entire presentation and is at the heart of your persuasive case.

NOTE

By constantly seeking the WIIFY in any persuasive situation, you can ensure that your presentation stays focused on what matters most: getting your audience to move from Point A to Point B.

For example, when an entrepreneurial CEO and her management team launch an IPO roadshow for potential investors, the WIIFY is, "If you invest in our company, you'll enjoy an excellent return on your money!"

On the other hand, when a corporate headhunter makes a job offer to a sought-after young recruit, the WIIFY is, "If you join our firm, you'll be starting an incredible career with great pay, fascinating challenges, and the prospect of some day becoming the company president!"

When a partner in a marketing consulting firm makes a new-business proposal to the chief operating officer (COO) of a Fortune 500 company, the WIIFY might be, "If you hire us, the expertise we'll provide will improve your promotional plans, increase your market share, and boost your profits—and your personal stock options will double in value!"

WIIFY Triggers

In addition to these grand WIIFYs, there will usually be many smaller WIIFYs—more specific but still significant audience benefits that give meaning to each element in your presentation. In fact, every element in your presentation must be clearly linked to a WIIFY.

In my programs, I use six phrases I call WIIFY triggers. They're designed to remind presenters about the necessity of linking every element of their presentations to a clear audience benefit—in other words, a WIIFY. During the final run-throughs of presentations I've helped develop, whenever I hear an idea, fact, story, or detail without a clear audience benefit, I interrupt to call out one of these WIIFY triggers:

  1. "This is important to you because...?" (The presenter fills in the blank.)

  2. "What does this mean to you?" (The presenter explains.)

  3. "Why am I telling you this?" (The presenter explains.)

  4. "Who cares?" ("You should care, because....")

  5. "So what?" ("Here's what....")

  6. "And...?" ("Here's the WIIFY....")

Get to know these WIIFY triggers. Use them on yourself the next time you're preparing a presentation, as reminders to link every element to a WIIFY. (You might want to copy this checklist from the Appendix, "Tools of the Trade," and tack it on the wall for continual inspiration.) When you work on a presentation as part of a team, use these triggers on your colleagues and encourage them to return the favor. By the tenth time you pull a WIIFY trigger, you might catch a nasty look or two, but the quality of the resulting presentation will make it all worthwhile.

Size Does Matter

Jim Bixby was the CEO of Brooktree, a company that made and sold custom-designed integrated circuits used by electronics manufacturers. (It's now part of Conexant Systems, Inc.) In preparation for Brooktree's IPO, Jim rehearsed his roadshow with me. I role-played a money manager at Fidelity, considering whether our mutual fund might invest in Brooktree. During the product portion of Jim's presentation, he held up a large, thick manual and said, "This is our product catalog. No other company in the industry has as many products in its catalog as we do."

Jim set down the catalog and was about to move on to the next topic when I raised my hand and fired off a WIIFY trigger. "Time out!" I said. "You say you have the biggest product catalog. Why should I care about the size of your catalog?"

With barely a pause, Jim raised the catalog again and replied, "With this depth of product, we protect our revenue stream against cyclical variations."

The lights went on. This was an immensely important factor in the company's financial strength, yet one that could easily have passed unnoticed simply because Jim had forgotten to ask himself, "What's the WIIFY?" Always find and state your WIIFY!

In any presentation, before you make any statement about yourself, your company, your story, or the products or services you offer, stop and ask yourself, "What's the WIIFY? What benefit does this offer my listener?" If there is none, it's a detail that might be of interest to you and your colleagues (a feature), but one that has no significance to your audience. But if there is a benefit, be sure you explain it clearly, explicitly, and with emphasis, just as Jim did when I pulled the WIIFY trigger.

At this point, you may want to protest, "Wait a minute. My audiences aren't stupid. They can figure out the benefits of whatever I mention. They might even feel insulted if I spell it all out for them!"

This is not necessarily true. Remember the Five Cardinal Sins. One is lack of a clear benefit. An essential truth about Audience Advocacy is that most business people today are overloaded with information, with commitments, with responsibilities. When you make your presentation, you may have your audience's undivided attention...but not necessarily. Even if it takes them just a few seconds to connect the dots between the feature you describe and the implied benefit, by the time they catch up, you will have moved on to your next point, and they probably won't have time to absorb the benefit—or the next point. You'll have lost your audience, perhaps permanently.

NOTE

An essential truth about Audience Advocacy is that most business people today are overloaded with information, with commitments, with responsibilities.

By stating the WIIFY, you seize an opportunity. Although your audience members are eminently capable of realizing the WIIFY on their own, when you state it for them, you lead them toward a conclusion, which of course is your Point B. In doing this, you manage their minds, you persuade them, and you instill confidence in your story, your presentation, and yourself. Plus, you accomplish something else. The audience might have just gotten to the Aha! themselves, a moment before you stated the WIIFY. By articulating it, you win their agreement. They react with nods, thinking to themselves, "Of course! I've never heard it put so succinctly and clearly!" Effective management.

This is a variation on the features/benefits distinction. When presenting to potential investors, a CEO may explain the best features of a leading product: "We've built a better mousetrap." But it's not the quality of the mousetrap in itself that the investors care about; it's the size of the market. The effective CEO presenter will then promptly move on to the benefit to investors: "...and the world is beating a path to our doorstep." When the WIIFY is right, everybody wins.

In fact, the power of the WIIFY even applies in our personal lives. Consider this example:

Debbie runs a small but growing catering business. In the past, she has managed to keep most of her weekends largely free of work, which her husband Rich thoroughly appreciates. Now, however, she has received the proverbial "offer she can't refuse": a request to cater a series of receptions at the local art museum that will keep her busy on weekends throughout the fall and winter. It will be quite lucrative as well as prestigious, but Debbie has to convince Rich to support her in this endeavor. Over dinner one evening, Debbie paints an eloquent word picture of how catering the receptions will put her company on the map, but she doesn't tell Rich how he'll benefit.

NOTE

Although your audience members are eminently capable of realizing the WIIFY on their own, when you state it for them, you lead them toward a conclusion, which of course is your Point B.

To win Rich's support, Debbie should say something like this: "This contract could boost my profits from the catering business next year by over 50%. It'll be enough to let me hire an assistant manager who can run the business for three weeks next summer...while we take that European tour we've always dreamed about."

In this example, Debbie had to do more than simply reframe the idea to make the WIIFY clear. She also had to adjust her plans so that Rich will receive a definite personal benefit. One of the advantages of crafting a well-conceived WIIFY is that, if you haven't previously shaped your proposition to be a true win/win deal with benefits for everybody, presenting the WIIFY forces you to do just that. Improving your presentation can also help to improve the underlying substance.

There's an old adage: "You can never be too thin or too rich." I propose to amend that with: "...or offer too many WIIFYs."

NOTE

One of the advantages of crafting a well-conceived WIIFY is that, if you haven't previously shaped your proposition to be a true win/win deal with benefits for everybody, presenting the WIIFY forces you to do just that.

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