Try Giving Your Next Presentation “Naked.”

Everybody has a dream. Mine is that more people will present naked.  And why not? Presenting naked takes less preparation and, if done right, blows the audience away.

“Presenting naked” is stripping away the trappings and “layers of clothing” that presenters use to hide their insecurities.  No PowerPoint. No lectern.  No notes.  Take a flip chart if you want. But nothing else.

You walk out in front of your audience — fully clothed. Stop. Wait for quiet. Then you passionately lay out a stripped-down message. The bare simplicity, relevant stories, and energy blow away audiences because most speeches are so dry and complicated.

Easier said than done?  Not really.  It only takes guts and a little know-how.  Presenting naked is easy if you know how to create a listener-focused presentation, how to rehearse, how to leave room for questions, and how to speak with passion.

How to Create Your “Naked” Presentation

Most presentations stink because they fail to focus on the audience’s true needs and interests. We’ve all sat through horrifyingly bad business presentations.  The worst I can remember was when I was a utility lawyer attending a meeting with about 50 utility executives in Birmingham, Alabama.  We were there to hear a three-hour presentation on anti-trust law by a lawyer from another firm. It was horrible.  He cited dozens of cases and delved into all sorts of economic theory that may have appealed to anti-trust lawyers and professors but had no appeal to utility executives.

I could hear the Blackberry’s clicking under the tables. No one was listening because the presenter didn’t focus on what the audience really wanted or needed to know – how to avoid jail.

How to Focus a Message

Naked presentations focus like a laser on audience interests.  Here’s how to quickly focus a message. On a blank sheet of paper, write down the three most important questions that your audience needs answered. Choose your questions carefully because they are the heart of your naked presentation.  Simplify your questions as much as possible.

If you’re delivering an anti-trust presentation to utility executives, you might focus on these questions:

  • What can you say to your competition?

  • What can you do to your competition?

  • And can you say in internal e-mails about your competition?

Determine the answers to your questions

Fill out your presentation by answering the questions and telling stories to illustrate your answers.

Here’s how it might sound.

I’m here to talk about anti-trust issues in the utility business. And I’m going to talk about three things:

  • What can you say to your competition?

  • What can you do to your competition?

  • And what can you say in internal e-mails about your competition?

Let’s talk about the first issue. What can you say to your competition? 

Then write on the flip-chart two or three things that you can and can’t say to your competition.  Tell stories illustrating your point. Move on to point two.  After point three, recap the core ideas.  Leaving time for questions, you shouldn’t speak for more than 20-30 minutes.

Applying the Model to Sales Presentations

While this model won’t necessarily work for everything, it can be far better than most presentations.  How about a sales pitch? I worked with a senior vice president of sales for a large distributor of airplane parts. He had a meeting to pitch an airline on the idea of outsourcing the airline’s parts-management process to his company.  The natural tendency for many sellers is to begin the presentation with a description of the company and the service offering.  Usually those presentations are deadly boring.  

In helping him with his presentation, I asked, “What are the three simple questions that your prospect would most likely ask?”

My client thought for a moment then came up with three questions his client would have.

  • Why can you do this better than us?
  • How can this save us money?
  • How can this generate more revenue for us?

“That’s your presentation,” I said. “Just tell him that you’re going to give a presentation about how you can make his company more competitive. Then outline the three questions and answer them, telling stories about how you’ve done the same for other airlines.”

That’s what he did and he blew them away.

That’s what a great “naked presentation” does. It gives what the audience wants, nothing more. Strip it down. Tell stories. Take questions.   Dump the theoretical crap. Dump the company history.  No one cares.

Leave Plenty of time for Audience Q&A

Too many presenters leave just a few minutes at the end of their presentation for questions.  In fact, many of my clients have confessed that they limit the time for questions because they’re afraid of being stumped, embarrassed by a question, or losing control of the presentation. 

But naked presenters understand that the goal isn’t to control the audience but to help them. Questions aren’t to be feared. They’re to be embraced.  There’s no better way to connect with an audience than to allow them free rein to ask as many questions as they want.   A good “naked presentation” allows at least half of the allotted time for questions. 

Jack Welch, one of corporate America’s best communicators, sometimes will go further than that.  Sometimes he will speak at executive roundtables and deliver what I consider the ultimate “naked presentation.”  Rather than delivering a speech, he will walk into the conference room, sit down at the front and say, “So what do you want to know?” And he fields questions for the entire period. 

He gets raves for his “naked” approach.

Rehearse and Deliver with Energy

“Naked presenters” also know they must do more than inform; they must sell ideas.  That means speaking with passion. And that means rehearsing out loud.  Rehearse until you can deliver like you’re having an animated dinner conversation with a close friend. Practice strong eye contact. Record yourself and make sure that you sound excited, like you’ve just discovered something wonderful.

Naked presenting is simple and authentic. It’s just you, chatting passionately without props and telling stories about the stuff that matters most to your listeners. 

Maybe someday everyone will present naked. That’s my dream.

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