The Messenger Matters in Effective Presentations

The Business Journal of Phoenix – June 8, 2007

A sales manager who recognized me from my picture in The Business Journal approached me at a recent networking event. He was incredibly frustrated. His team of 12 salespeople had a 30-minute scripted presentation they were to deliver, at the end of which was a call to action (a.k.a. close).

Despite the significant time his organization had spent on developing a tight, persuasive script and a snazzy PowerPoint show, he wasn’t getting consistent results from all of his presenters. He didn’t understand why some were closing many deals and others were landing significantly fewer.

He scratched his head and said with a quizzical look, “I don’t get it. They all have the presentation.”


I commended him on investing the time to develop a script and a complementary visual component, and mentioned that it would be difficult to assess their effectiveness without further evaluation. But I did ask, “How frequently do you watch them present?”

He got a startled look on his face and began to chuckle. “Watch? I don’t have time for that. They have the script.”

Successful presentations require an effective messenger — not just an effective message.

The script and visual component alone do not make a presentation. If they did, why would we need presenters? Why not send an e-mail or a Web-based presentation?

Call it old school, but the bottom line is that people sell, words on a slide don’t.

We can’t develop a relationship through words on a slide. People like to do business with people they like and trust. It is the person we connect with. It is the presenter who brings the presentation to life. Masterful presenters skillfully weave powerful content and dynamic delivery into a work of art.

Whether you agreed with his politics or not, most would agree that Ronald Reagan had a way of profoundly connecting with people. “The Great Communicator” was a truly engaging, gifted orator who spoke from the heart, with a conversational tone and informal style.

Granted, he had a group of talented writers to craft his speeches. But as an actor, he learned the technique that enabled him to deliver powerful and important messages masterfully to U.S. citizens and the people of the world.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher paid tribute to Reagan prior to the end of his presidency, noting that he had achieved “the most difficult of all political tasks: changing attitudes and perceptions about what is possible.” In business, presentations often do just that.

Dynamic messengers change attitudes and perceptions by serving substance with style and sizzle. They maintain interest, and listeners generally retain their information better. They make the message memorable.

Technique and artistry. When I was young, I took violin lessons using the Suzuki Method. Why did my version of Bach’s “Minuet in G Major” sound nothing like Joshua Bell’s or Itzhak Perlman’s? Same music, very different sound. Playing notes is one thing; making magnificent and powerful music is another. Notes alone don’t make music. Music also involves tempo, dynamics, emotion and silence — the space between the notes.

Often, presenters are uncomfortable with silence. Find places in your presentation to add musical elements. Use inflection to color your words. Look for an opportunity to build to a verbal crescendo, or accent a powerful statement with a dramatic pause. Practice makes these technical elements become more comfortable and come across as more natural.

Confidence, personality and authenticity. Jordin Sparks, Glendale’s spunky 17-year-old singing sensation, beat out thousands of competitors to win “American Idol.”

Many were shocked that arguably the competition’s most seasoned, consistent and technically sound singer, Melinda Doolittle, failed to secure enough votes to make the final two.

While several confident, talented and technically sound performers competed this year, Sparks’ confidence, personality and authenticity made her a standout throughout the competition.

What was it about this vibrant and charismatic Sandra Day O’Connor High School student that had young, old and all ages in between dialing in votes for her week after week? Unlike many of her competitors, who tried to mimic their idols, Sparks approached each song with her own unique style.

Besides having an unbelievable amount of talent, artistry and solid musical technique, she was off the charts on the likeability scale. Young and confident, yet incredibly humble, her personality and authenticity made her a fan favorite.

The messenger matters. By adding some technique, artistry, confidence, personality and authenticity, you’ll make your content more memorable and build a stronger connection with your audience.