Michelle Bowden’s Persuasion Blueprint

I’m a pitch coach for people who are trying to win big, multi-million-dollar deals and I also help CEOs and their executive teams present at the highest levels and to the biggest audiences. It may surprise you that even CEOs report that they fear public speaking. It’s a common fear for many people that’s for sure.


It was a Friday afternoon and I received a call from an Executive Assistant called Tiffany. She works for a CEO, someone very impressive and famous in the Australian business world. She was ringing with a reasonably common request, something I get asked a lot. She says to me, “My boss has a really important presentation next Wednesday. He needs to come across as confident and assured. He hates public speaking and he swears a lot when he’s nervous!  He has 1-hour available on Monday. He wants to run through his presentation slides and get you to fix his nerves and stop his swearing, so he is confident and does a good job.  Oh, and by the way, he hates the sound of his voice.”


I say, “Yes! I’d love to coach him. Yes, I can do Monday. No I can’t fix his nerves in an hour. And can we please do something different? I can’t get him to simply run through his slides because all that will do is make his nervousness worse.”


You see, by this stage, some alarm bells are ringing in my mind.


1. Firstly, everyone knows that anyone who reads from their slides is a terrible presenter! We expect our CEO to know their content and not to read to us from slides.

2. Secondly, if he even knows how his voice sounds then he’s too self-focused and not sufficiently audience focused. If he stays self-focused, he will continue to struggle with presentation nerves.

3. Thirdly, I know that it’s close to impossible to fix your focus on the audience, and therefore your nervousness, if you’re ‘in your own head’ trying to think about what you want to say next. In fact, the key to being completely audience focused is to follow a simple process to structure your message so that you know exactly what you want to say and can spend your energy connecting with the whites of people’s eyes, not worrying about what to say next.

4. Finally, if he keeps doing what he’s always done and persists in trying things that don’t work (hating your own voice and swearing without any control is not a winning strategy!) he won’t do well on the day.


I further explain to Tiffany that understanding your audience and using a clever presentation structure is the KEY to exceptional presenting.  If you are clear on your presentation outcome, and then you get the design right, all of the other aspects like managing your nerves and connecting with an audience will be far easier to achieve. 


Both the Tiffany and the CEO are flexible about how we work together. In the end, I spend 6 hours in total with him prior to his event on Wednesday.


What did we do?


Firstly, we go back to first principles and do a thorough audience analysis. He becomes much clearer about what he needs to achieve in the meeting and begins to relax. Secondly, we craft a clever message that is sure to take the audience on a journey and compel them to action. He is empowered by his own message and this greatly assists him to believe in his words and convey them authentically. And thirdly we do some important rehearsal so that he knows he can smash it without the slides and without the swearing!


I wouldn’t be telling you the story unless it ends well right? The great news is that he got his outcome. He received a standing ovation from his people in an Australian audience (who are not the most enthusiastic!) He was inundated with positive feedback. People even asked him if he’d been receiving presentation coaching. A number of people were intrigued by his lack of obscenities!  I received a personalised thank you note from his Board. Of course, I share this story with you because I firmly believe that anyone can be an awesome presenter, no matter how high the stakes, how big the audience, or how short the timeframe for preparation. You’ve just got to know the right formulas to apply and use them!


I bet you’re wondering, what’s the formula for a winning presentation?


There are three phases to a persuasive presentation in business:


1. Analysis: work out who your audience is, what is their current state and where do you want to shift them to? What’s your desired state?

2. Design: craft your message cleverly so that it meets the needs of your audience and also achieves what you want.

3. Delivery: rehearse sufficiently, focus on your audience and then deliver in a way that captivates the crowd.


I’ve been teaching persuasive presenting in business for over 21 years. Within the three phases mentioned above, there are some winning formulas that most really good presentation skills trainers teach when they want to help you structure your messages properly.


But there is a bit of confusion!

I had been teaching one of the best-practice models for structuring a communication that sticks for about 10 years, and every time I took people through the model, I’d find people would still be somewhat confused about what to say and when. I sincerely believe that if a model is confusing then people won’t remember it and they won’t use it.


So, in 2006 I developed a formula that sits over the top of one of the best-practice models. My formula helps you craft a winning presentation or pitch that shifts your audience from their current state, to your desired state. I call it The Persuasion Blueprint. The Persuasion Blueprint combines all of the key elements of a persuasive presentation and helps you know exactly what to say, with precision, accuracy and linguistic mastery, in the right spots and at the right time.  I’m very excited to share it here with you.


The Persuasion Blueprint


Step 0. The Icebreaker.Hook your audience’s attention with what is known as an icebreaker. Icebreakers are delivered in the first 30 seconds of a presentation and their objective is to hook your audience’s attention, so they are sitting up in their chairs and wanting to hear more from you. (Plus, you’ve got to love a model with a step 0!)


Step 1: Build Rapport.People need to know how much you care about their needs before you tell them all about yourself and explain your key points. Use statements that are inclusive in nature and reflect to your audience what they already know to be true. Use the words you say at this step to show empathy for your stakeholder’s situation.


Step 2: Lead the audience.  A leading statement is your key message, or the main thing you want your audience to understand as a result of this meeting or presentation. Leading statements often have strong, contentious words in them such as, “it is essential that we…” or, “we must….”


Step 3: Motivate.A good presenter knows that it’s our job to motivate our audience to lean in and listen. This step is where you explain what’s in it for your audience to be here today listening to this presentation.


Step 4: Manage Objections.In this step you address all the key objections to you, your content, or the timing of this message. You deal with them now so that people are relaxed and ready to listen to your key messages. Remember people who don’t know why don’t buy. So give them a why, dissolve their objections and watch them buy: your product, your service, or your next BIG idea!


Step 5. Set the Ground Rules.Here you set out all the meeting rules and boundaries, so your meeting runs as smoothly as possible. Explain what’s happening in today’s meeting, who is speaking, who else is there, when to ask questions and anything else people need to know in order to relax and pay attention.


Step 6. The What?Now it’s time to deliver your actual content. Aim to follow the Concept, Principle, Detail Model. Start with the big picture, then narrow down your explanation until finally you give the details. Include the facts and data and any research findings that back up your data or proposal.


Step 7. The How?Next your audience is keen to hear how to implement the information you have covered. In this step you explain the steps and application.


Step 8. Other Information.This is the place to add any of those extra little bits of content that don’t fit anywhere else! Include those important things you want to say that would distract the audience if you said them any earlier. This section often starts with, “By the way….”


Step 9. The Summary.Sadly, people have often forgotten the key messages by the time you get to the end. This is the step where you remind your audience of the 3 key messages from this meeting. Information is best remembered and repeated when delivered in the rhythm of 3.


Step 10. Call to Action.It’s so important to make sure that you always ask for something every time you deliver a presentation. Don’t miss the chance to move your client further through the sales funnel, or to ask your colleagues or managers for further support. A call to action is clear, direct and explicit and encourages a yes/no response for example, “I respectfully request that you endorse this recommendation.”


Step 11 Q&A. If you are an interactive presenter and like to ask questions throughout then by all means do that. If you prefer to have a more formal slot for your Q&A then I recommend you do it at step 11 of The Persuasion Blueprint. Many people finish with a Q&A session which can mean that an audience member gets the final say in your presentation, and it doesn’t guarantee the rest of the audience will leave with your key messages in their mind.  Do the Q&A here and then make sure that whichever way the Q&A goes, you, the presenter, always have the final word.


Step 12. Negative & Positive Consequences.In this step you remind your audience what happens if they don’t do what you’ve asked, and then what happens when they do. Use the words “if” and “when” so you are as persuasive as possible. For example, “If you don’t approve the funding then …. and when you do ….”.


Step 13. Closing Statement.You’re nearly there!  The final thing to do is make sure you end with a ‘sizzle!’  A Closing statement is short, and punchy and sells the sizzle of your message. It doesn’t call your audience to action (because most people don’t love the hard sell and you don’t want then to describe you as ‘pushy’). A closing statement is an exciting statement that indicates we are at the end and you can clap now! 


Can you alter the order of the steps?

Yes of course! If you know better because you’ve completed a thorough audience analysis and you know that your audience needs to hear the points in a different order then follow your instincts. I present them in this order because this is the typical way to use each element.


Please give it a try!


If you’d like further help, I’ve written a best-selling, internationally published book that details each of the steps with worked examples and free templates over a whopping 293 pages. It’s called, How to Present: the ultimate guide to presenting your ideas and influencing people using techniques that actually work (Wiley). You can find it on my website.


Please aim to give this a try the next time you have to craft an important email, pitch document, or presentation.


The Persuasion Blueprint has been created to help you put your chunks of information together in a logical order that works for your audience. It’s not about what feels most logical to you, it is all about your audience and when they need to hear each of the elements in order to stay on the right track, listen carefully and take the action you desire. It’s an exciting opportunity for you to take charge of your communication just like my CEO and achieve some stunning results!


Happy Presenting!


© Michelle Bowden 2020.  Michelle Bowden is an authority on presentation & persuasion in business. Michelle is a CSP (the highest designation for speakers in the world), co-creator of the Persuasion Smart Prolife ™ (a world-first psychometric indicator that tests your persuasiveness at work), best-selling internationally published author (Wiley), and a regular commentator in print, radio and online media.

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