Early Career

Women Lead Webinar: Delivering Persuasive Presentations Is an Evolution, Not a Revolution

Laura-Wall-KlievesYour presentations might be good enough—but Laura Wall Klieves believes your ideas deserve more. She led this month’s Women Lead webinar on persuasive presentations and is the VP of Marketing and Academy at Duarte, Inc., an organization that creates presentations and offers training based on its VisualStory™ methodology.

Duarte’s VisualStory™ methodology applies storytelling and visual thinking to craft persuasive communications designed to shift audience beliefs and behaviors. Or, as Laura framed it on the webinar, their work acknowledges that a speaker’s audience is “the Hero” of the presentation.

Laura explained that a typical presentation scenario includes the presenter, slides, and audience. While many speakers start with the slides, she emphasized the audience is most important and must be put first.

“Being an effective communicator is about more than putting your message in front of people,” Laura said. Presenters need to sell an idea, influence management, ask for resources, and direct teams.

“It’s not what I need to tell you,” she added. “It’s what you need to hear from me to adopt my idea.”

Four Principles to Improve Presentations

Laura doesn’t just teach these lessons—she learned them from personal experience. In her marketing and advertising agency background, she spent 30 years delivering hundreds—if not thousands—of presentations. However, she never really learned the basic skills to become a more effective presenter, and didn’t realize such training isn’t just for the c-suite.

To help Women Lead participants work on becoming great communicators, she discussed four principles to apply to future presentations: 1) know your audience; 2) have a big idea; 3) use contrast; and 4) create compelling visuals.

#1: Know Your Audience

Presenters need to pay more attention to the audience so they can mobilize ideas, Laura explained.

Ask yourself questions about your audience: What are they like? Why are they here? What are their pain points? What keeps them up at night? How can you help them?

Yet there is more to understanding your audience than answering basic questions. Laura said presenters must “find the overlap” between themselves and their audience.

To find common ground with your audience, think about who you are as a presenter and how you can relate to your audience members.

To drive home the point, Laura asked participants to think about how Queen Elizabeth II could build common ground when presenting to cowboys.

While the overlap may not sound immediately obvious, participants quickly pointed to hats and horses as shared interests, as well as the mutual qualities of strength and independence.

#2: Have a Big Idea

In talking about the second most important component in a presentation scenario, Laura revealed it’s the presenter. “The presenter carries the message and needs to communicate it to the audience,” she said. If there’s a technology issue, and you can’t show your slides, you can still share the message.

Before you even open a program like PowerPoint, she urged presenters to map out what they’re going to say, or their “big idea.”

Here’s how she summarized the big idea: Your point of view (What’s your unique point of view on the topic at hand?) + The stakes (What is at stake for those who do or don’t adopt your point of view?)= The big idea (Write it as a complete sentence.).

Once you have the big idea, she said, you can start generating content—but it’s still not time to open PowerPoint. Rather than fixating on fonts, use sticky notes to map out the story on a wall.

Presentations can benefit from a story structure with a beginning, middle, and end, or three acts, she added.

#3: Use Contrast

Once you have your story structure, you can infuse your message with contrast. Laura said contrast helps you move your audience forward.

As an example, she showed participants an image with both angels and demons, asked them which they saw first, and encouraged them to look for the other. Similarly, an audience comes into the room with their own knowledge and biases.

“Your point of view is very clear in your big idea,” Laura said. “Talk about alternate points of view. That’s going to endear your audience to you.”

In the beginning, or Act 1, talk about the big gap between “what is” and “what could be.” In the middle, give them a call to action. At the end, describe the “new bliss,” or what it will be like after adopting the big idea.

#4: Create Compelling Visuals

Only after thinking about all of this does Laura recommend focusing on the last component of the presentation scenario: the slides.

She pointed out that it took 38 minutes into her hour-long webinar to bring up slides, yet many people start there sweating over titles and bullets.

Laura stressed: “If there’s one thing you take away from today’s webinar…don’t use bullet points.”

Human beings read faster than we can speak. You only need key info on your slides and you can explain the rest. If you need a crutch, use a teleprompter or slide notes.

“Move toward a true presentation, where slides are supporting your message—they’re not your entire message,” Laura said. The audience should quickly look at slides, then go back to the presenter.

To help get there, offer one idea per slide, and follow two rules for data slides: 1) keep it simple; 2) get to the point of why you’re sharing this data. She showed that even complex flow charts can be boiled down to a simple testimonial.

It’s an Evolution

In closing, Laura encouraged participants not to finish presentations moments before they need to speak so they can practice.

Duarte’s golden rule is simple, but powerful: “Never deliver a presentation you wouldn’t want to sit through,” she said. “It’s an evolution, not a revolution. Practice a few things that work well for you.”

Free Duarte Resources:

Resonate: “Like having a portable story writing workshop in your hands”

Slidedocs: “How to create dense documents using PowerPoint, with two downloadable templates”

Diagrammer: “Over 4,000 PowerPoint diagrams, created by Duarte, Inc.”


While this Women Lead webinar is not available on demand, for more information review the free Duarte resources listed here, contact Joe Fontana at, or visit

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