Supercompetent Speaking: Presenters as Problem Solvers

Although a good presentation may be educational, it achieves a higher level of value when it specifically seeks to solve a problem the audience is experiencing.

One of the services that we, as speakers, have the pleasure of providing is problem solving. The best presentations aren’t just dry recitations of data. Although a good presentation may be educational, it achieves a higher level of value when it specifically seeks to solve a problem the audience is experiencing.

Here’s how to deliver a presentation your audience will not only remember but will take to heart and put to good use.

  1. Do your homework. Sometimes a client will specify the topic they want you to discuss, but we all need the occasional brush-up. Learn as much as possible about your audience—not just their level of experience and knowledge but also the challenges they face. Call up a team leader to discuss the matter. Seek to understand what the audience specifically wants from you in terms of your content and how you can continue to help afterward.
  2. Select a problem they need help with. If you’ve done your homework correctly, you will know the recurrent issues that keep your audience awake at night, whether that’s lack of resources, under-staffing, time management, or whatever. Determine how your expertise best addresses these issues, and send a few bullet points to your contact to ensure you’re on track.
  3. Make sure the problem is real to them. If the issue you’re addressing doesn’t cause your listeners pain if it persists, then they may not consider it a problem (even if it is). What risks do they face, professionally and personally, from the issue? Will the bottom line be affected if they don’t fix it? Will the problem damage their career prospects?
  4. Begin the problem-solving process. You can’t come riding in on your white horse and fix the problem in a one-hour session (or even a full day), but you can initiate the process by identifying and exploring the problem, explaining the underlying cause, suggesting goals for your audience to set, and offering a range of alternatives. (This is especially important if you’re making a sales presentation—so, of course, the range of alternatives should include yours.) What is your audience not doing to fix the problem that they should, and what are they doing to worsen the problem?

Problem-Solving Presentations

As a presenter, you are a problem solver. Your job is to help the audience fix it. In many cases, they’ll be aware of the problem and will be curious to hear your solutions. But sometimes, they may have no idea they even have the problem. When you suggest the problem, they may have a Blinding Flash of the Obvious (BFO): “That’s it!” This involves a tried-and-true marketing method called “PAS,” short for Pain-Agitate-Solve. Ideally, you want them to choose your solution, so show them clearly the root cause of the problem, make them really feel it, and then reveal how you can help them fix it. You can only start the process; it’s up to them to choose to change.

Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, is an expert in productivity. For more than 20 years, Stack has worked with business leaders to execute more efficiently, boost performance, and accelerate results in the workplace. Her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides productivity workshops around the globe to help attendees achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time. Stack is the bestselling author of six books, with more than 20 foreign editions, published by Random House, Wiley, and Berrett-Koehler, including her newest work, “Execution IS the Strategy” (March 2014). An expert in the field of performance and workplace issues, Stack has been featured on the CBS Early Show, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. Connect via her website, Facebook, or Twitter.