Smiling business woman giving a presentation.

Presenters: Stop burying the lead

As presenters, why do we so often bury the lead?

In school, many of us were taught to write using this formula: introduction, body, conclusion. It’s a tried-and-true formula that worked great while we were in school.

However, this formula works less well in the business world. Why? Because our audience is busy. They’re bombarded with thousands of messages every day. That means we need to cut through the clutter and hook their attention quickly.

This is clearer than ever when we give presentations. Presenters who stick to the old formula end up burying their lead – both overall and on each slide.

When it’s not clear immediately to the audience what’s in it for them, they stop listening. So presenters don’t get their stories heard – the whole point of why they’re presenting.

Here are 4 ways presenters can stop burying the lead:

  1. Make a Message Map.
  2. Change your introduction.
  3. Rethink your slides.
  4. Close with your key message.

Make a Message Map

While some presenters create their presentations on-the-fly, many presenters make an outline first. While thinking about your presentation before you begin creating it has many benefits, the outline form can create hurdles.

That’s because outlines are linear and usually follow the same introduction-body-conclusion format we used in school.

Instead of creating an outline, I recommend making a Message Map. With a Message Map, your key message – the main benefit to your audience – is in the center.

With a Message Map, you start and end your presentation by saying what’s in it for your audience. Repeating audience benefits increases your chances of getting, and keeping, their attention so your story is heard.

Change your introduction

“I’m so pleased to be here today.”

“Thank you for the opportunity to present to you today.”

“I’m Jane Smith, and I’m vice president of X at company Y.”

Do any (or all) of those openings sound familiar? Presenters often begin their presentations this way. It’s a mistake because it’s all about them, and not about the audience.

Your introduction is your first chance to grab your audience’s attention. Never waste it.

Here’s how I introduce myself: “I’m Ariana, and I help organizations hook their audiences quickly and get their stories heard.”

I don’t say, “I’m a communications and marketing consultant,” or “I’m partner and chief communications officer at Crystal Clear Communications.” Instead, I try to make sure my audience knows why they should keep listening to my presentation. I focus on what’s in it for them.

Rethink your slides

There’s a reason a book titled Death by PowerPoint exists. Some presenters use PowerPoint as a crutch. They put every word they’re going to say on the slide, so they don’t have to worry about preparing as much.

This often backfires, because presenters often put the takeaway, the key message, in small type at the bottom of each slide. If they read their slides to the audience, the key message gets lost.

To avoid boring your audience and hold their attention instead, rethink your slides. Are you burying the lead?

Are you stating a bunch of detailed information and then listing the outcome – what’s in it for your audience – in tiny type at the bottom of your slide?

Graphic of audience members stepping during a presentation.
Presenters: Avoid boring your audience by making sure the benefit of each slide is clear.

If you are, flip the order. Put the key message first, in large type. Then add bullets on how or what needs to be done to achieve that takeaway.

Close with your key message

You’ve made your Message Map, introduced yourself well, and your slides now emphasize what’s in it for your audience.

Keep up the good work and nail the close. Instead of putting up a slide that says “Questions” or only provides your contact information, put your key takeaway and your contact information on the slide.

The key takeaway should come from the center, or home base, of your Message Map. Keep it on screen as you take questions, to increase your chances of people remembering your story.

Giving a presentation is a great way to get your story heard. Yet presenters too often bury the lead and lose audience attention. By ensuring you focus on key messages and hooking your audience’s attention, you can get your story heard and remembered.

For more tips on messaging, communications, and marketing, subscribe to our blog.