The row between the US and Russian governments concerning their policy on Syria relies on one major factor: evidence.
It was the same disputed factor that led the US and Britain into war in Iraq.
And it’s at the heart of Donald Trump’s hotly-disputed claims about Inauguration day attendances, spying allegations and chemical attacks in Syria.
When there’s a lack of evidence, it breeds mistrust.
It’s the same with a presentation.
Here’s how to find the right evidence, and how to present that to your audience to convince them of your argument.
We often begin our presentation skills training courses with the following statement:
“Thank you for coming. Just to reassure you, we’re the best trainers in the world, ever”.
The ridiculous statement rightly draws ire from the crowd, followed by a look of “prove it”.
These outlandish claims – based on opinion and little substance – are best illustrated through TV programmes such as The Apprentice.
The late Stuart Baggs “the brand” gave us some classics in his presentations:
“I am like Midas, only everything I touch turns to sold”
“I’m not a one-trick pony; I’m a whole field of ponies ready to pounce”
In his desire to convince the audience he was skilled, he protested too much.
And if there’s one thing we dislike more than anything in the UK, it’s arrogance.
Contrast that with the following statements.
“Hopefully people like to think I’m quite a good salesperson”
“I certainly try my best, and that’s all you can do”
Hardly inspirational, eve of Agincourt-type statements.
The middle ground – between arrogance and overt Britishness – is found in what we call ‘words of commitment’.
“I’m absolutely determined to help you find the solution here”
“Our clear goal is to make the lives of each person in our community better”
“I firmly believe this is the right course of action”
“We’re totally committed to the health and safety of our staff”
When you need to express a statement of clear intent, use the above to help gain belief from the audience during your presentation.
But we need more.
Consider the last time you took a short break and stayed in a hotel, apartment or B&B for the first time.
Somewhere you were hearing about for the first time.
You had a look on the website.
Very pleasant – the photos look great and the amenities were ideal. Great location, too.
But you wouldn’t trust the website, right?
After all, they’re simply offering to you the best possible version of your stay.
They hired a professional photographer and got an expert marketer to write the copy.
Instead, you jumped onto TripAdvisor or Google.
You read the first few reviews, and then the one that said “one star – disgusting”.
And now your search continues, or you decide that person had an axe to grind and book anyway.
In other words, you’re trusting complete strangers to influence your decision.
People from all walks of life, with whom the only thing you have in common is that you considered staying in the same accommodation.
The leisure industry has long understood the power of this bias.
That’s why many hotels have a TripAdvisor widget built into their site.
It automatically updates when someone leaves a review – positive or negative.
It shows transparency and it helps to build trust.
There are a number of sources you can draw on to build trust in your presentation:
Eight out of 10 cats prefer Whiskas.
One in three of us will develop cancer at some stage in our lives.
Last year, those who invested with our bank realised an average 110% return on investment.
Statistics, verified externally, build trust.
If they’re made simple, they travel outside of the room.
Avoid dwelling on industry achievements, such as awards or recognitions.
They sum up the ‘what’s in it for you’.
During your presentation dwell on ‘what’s in it for the audience’ by relating statistics directly to the benefits of your products or service.
People love having something affirmed, which they already believe to be true.
That’s why giving examples that are relevant to your audience support your point when presenting.
Let’s take the art of answering questions directly as an example.
It’s one of the principles we teach every day – to answer a question directly.
As soon as we show a video of Michael Howard dodging the question 12 times with Jeremy Paxman in 1997, it makes sense to people.
We follow that up with a clip of Theresa May doing the exact same thing 20 years later.
It gives practice to a point of theory.
And it affirms people’s belief that politicians can be slippery – and we all want to avoid being seen to act like a slippery politician.
A friend of mine, Dave Sawyer, once asked me if I knew of any child who ever climbed into bed and said:
“Daddy, can you read me a press release?”
He was making the point that as kids, we prefer stories, and that continues into adulthood.
It was memorable for me – and I’m writing this because I want you to remember that, too.
Anecdotes that support your audience’s previous beliefs will help convince them of something they suspected to be true already.
We all experience anecdotes every single day.
In the absence of externally verified facts for your presentation, they bring substance to your points.
A senior executive at the Royal Bank of Scotland was once asked what the bank meant by its commitment to ‘do the right thing’ for its customers.
He told the story of a widow his team had worked with the month previously.
Her husband had died the morning before the couple was due to sign life insurance papers, leaving the widow behind to pay the mortgage on her own.
“We honoured the insurance agreement and paid out because the intent to sign was there. That’s what we mean by doing the right thing.”
The anecdotes you build with those you meet privately help you tell the right story, so keep building them up.
The best presentation I’ve ever seen was just 43 seconds long.
It took place in St Mary Axe in the city of London, commonly known as The Gherkin, by an investment banker:
“I’ve travelled to three cities this week: Frankfurt, Edinburgh and London.
In each city I’ve stayed in a Premier Inn – because I know I’ll have a good night’s sleep.
Each morning I’ve grabbed a Costa coffee on my way to work – because I need a latte or a cappuccino to function.
And each evening I’ve eaten healthily or unhealthily at a Beefeater or Brewer’s Fayre – because I like good food at a good price.
Consumer spending is falling, yet people always need somewhere to stay, something to drink and something to eat.
That’s why Whitbread Plc. investors have seen their return grow every year for the last five years.
My advice, as a banker of 23 years?
Invest in Whitbread today – and I believe you’ll get that same return”.
Combining all three can have a wonderful effect.
Start using them today – or even better, work directly with us.
Come along to us and we’ll give you that same 5-star treatment to help you achieve your goals.
Written by Andrew McFarlan, the Managing Director of Glasgow-based media training and presentation skills firm Pink Elephant Communications.
Some media trainers knock you down…and leave you down. Our media coaches show you how to deal with each knock…and still win through. So you have the presentation skills to perform – with confidence.