September 17

Is your presentation built to persuade? The anatomy of a persuasive presentation


Presentations, like movies, television shows, and speeches typically follow a basic three-act structure invented by Aristotle: they have an opening, a body, and a conclusion. There are many variations on that structure and each serves a different purpose – whether it’s to entertain, inform, or inspire. As a salesperson it’s not enough for your prospect to walk out and be “well-informed” or say “that was a fun presentation.”

To drive your prospect to take action, you need a structure designed to persuade.

Research shows that the structure proven most effective in persuading audiences divides your presentation into three parts: Situation, complication, resolution. This structure works for a variety of reasons: it places the focus on your prospect’s challenge or objective — rather than your product, service, or company — and it organizes your message in a way that can shift your prospect’s perception, open her mind to new ideas, and motivate her to take action.

The Situation

In the opening of your presentation you need to quickly set the stage for your prospect by defining the current situation. What is the problem, opportunity, or challenge that you’re there to solve? How is your prospect currently addressing it? And more importantly, what is the impact it’s having on her and her organization? By clearly defining the situation you are laying the groundwork for why your prospect needs to change as well as letting her know that you have a clear understanding of her world.

Once you’ve established the current situation, paint a picture of where your product or service can take your prospect. This starts to create value as well as a disparity between where your prospect is and where she wants to be. Setting up the situation, pointing to the future and introducing value is an important first step in a persuasive presentation.

TIP: Don’t forget you need to quickly gain attention in your opening as well! Click here for tips.

The Complication

The body of most sales presentations is made up almost entirely of a long list of features or product capabilities that leave your prospect wistfully eyeing the exit. In a persuasive presentation, use the body to introduce each topic or capability of your solution by specifically defining the challenge it solves and exploring the risk or pain that will continue for your prospect if it is not addressed. For example: “Here’s how you are currently handling this particular function in your organization and here’s the impact…Now, here’s how our (feature or capability) addresses that.” By continuing to reinforce that gap between current and future, pain and relief in the body of your presentation you increase your prospect’s sense of urgency to take action. This creates tension and tension taps into that human desire to solve the problem. By exploring each challenge and the impact of not making a change you are building a case for answering the questions “Why should the prospect buy this product or service?” and/or “Why should the prospect buy it from you?”

The Resolution

Your closing is the big payoff.  It’s time to provide a clear resolution to the tension with a solution and a simple and clearly defined next step. In your closing, restate the value you’ve established in your body and back it up with proof: facts, figures, research studies, customer success stories, and so forth. As the final impression you make on your prospect, it’s critical that your closing shine as brightly as your opening, reaffirm value, and give a clear and measurable call to action.

TIP:  All presentations end, but very few close. Find out how to deliver a strong, memorable closing by clicking here.


presentation skills, Presentation structure, sales presentations

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