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How to structure your presentation message for changing minds

As a decision maker and business leader in Northern Ireland, some of your formal business presentation situations will be about changing minds. You might want to introduce a new way of working to your team, sell a new strategy within your business or to external investors, seek investment in a new idea or win business from new or existing clients. In each of these topics, and in many others that you will face, changing the minds of your audience is often critical, a prerequisite that will allow you to achieve your end goal.

While some people are open to change, many more are resistant to the idea and feel less comfortable with change. What can you do in your presentations to manage and address this? How can you help people engage with the changes that you are proposing through the medium of your presentation? What can you do to move your audience from sceptics to advocates?

Change is often uncomfortable for people. Change that you are very positive about can elicit very different reactions in your people. The reaction to change can be akin to grief. People can go through a number of stages – shock, denial, frustration, depression before getting to an end point of integrating the change into their everyday routines. And of course major change initiatives are prone to failure. Recent research by Gallup suggests 70% of these sorts of projects fail. When you are leading and presenting, you need to manage people through the various different stages of change. Don’t ignore the signs of resistance, embrace them!

C hanging Minds Four stage model

So here is a simple 4 stage model that we suggest business leaders adopt if they want to help bring about sustainable behavioural or mind-set change in the contexts outlined above.

Have a ‘burning platform’.

A burning platform is a compelling reason for change. If you are asking people to change, they need to understand why the change is so important. Building the ‘Why?’ is often something that leaders do not spend enough time doing in a presentation. Failure to present a compelling reason for change is likely to lead to the audience not seeing change as a key priority for them. You may need to signpost to your audience the positive consequences of achieving the change and the negative consequences of not achieving it as part of communicating the burning platform.

Create a clear and shared vision of the future.

Once people see the compelling need for change, they need to know where they are headed: what the future will look like after the change has been successfully implemented. Think about how you can make the desired future state clear and attractive to your audience and help them see their part in creating that future.

Confirm the ability to change.

If you are asking your audience to engage in change, a key question is ‘Am I able to change?’ This question might be at the level of skills, behaviours or around how they think and what they believe is Unless the audience feels able to change in the ways that are required you may experience their frustration: they get the need and are engaged with the vision but do not feel able to change. Give thought to what abilities or behaviours are needed to successfully achieve the desired change and whether your people already have the ability or need some help and support in this area.

Provide clear first steps.

If you want your audience to engage in coordinated activities in order to start the process of change towards where you want to be then you have to give some clear first steps. Without giving clarity about these first steps you run the risk of individuals taking different actions in service of the same end goal. This may reduce your chance of success and make progress difficult to assess and manage.

One of our 12 habits of Exceptional Presenters (find out more at www.jeremycassellcoaching.com) is ‘Consistently follow a preparation model’. So, as you prepare for any presentation which is aimed at changing minds, remember these key points:

  • Pacing the audience is critical – they need to feel that you have real empathy for their reality and also that you understand the discomfort that is often associated
  • with significant change. You must make enough time to pace the audience properly rather than come across as being insincere in this.
  • Make time to deliver the ‘burning platform’ early on in a presentation: most presenters
  • rush too quickly to the information (the ‘what’) and do not pay enough attention to the ‘Why’. If you do not communicate a compelling ‘why’ then your audience is unlikely to listen to the detail!
  • Take time to communicate the future vision: how will things be better after the change has been successfully completed? This might be obvious to you but may not be to the audience. Again, not doing a good job of this means that your audience may not be listening to the detail of your presentation.
  • Think about what, specifically, you want your audience to do in terms of first steps. Think of this as being similar to building the initial momentum for change to continue. Imagine that your car has broken down and you need to push it off of the road. It takes a bit of energy to get the car moving but once it is moving it is easier to keep it going.

You can change minds and it is typically the most challenging element of leading and presenting. If you are in a position in which you are leading change, prepare with the audience in mind and start utilising the practical ideas that we have identified in this article.


Article by Tom Bird and Jeremy Cassell, winners of this years’ The Business Books Awards for their book, The Leader’s Guide to Presenting: How to Use Soft Skills to Get Hard Results, published by FT Publishing . The Business Books Awards is now open for entries.