Develop a ‘brief’ for a winning presentation every time

Presentations are a fact of business, especially in B2B. You use them externally to sell, and inside your business to influence and move work forward. In many cases, a presentation is the thing between you and securing a contract from your prospect, or between you and a blessing (and funding approval) from the board to launch a new initiative. But presentations are so ubiquitous you might be fooled into thinking they don’t require a great deal of prep. That would be a mistake. If you’ve got a high stakes presentation in your future (and if you’re reading this you probably do), take the time to create a presentation ‘brief’ first.


  • Home in on the key question you must ask for the decision-maker.
  • Make a bold claim with a supportable point of view.
  • Expect and prepare for resistance.
  • Close with a clear call to action or call to arms.

Some presentations are more important than others. That’s just a fact of life.

And, while every audience deserves your best efforts, sometimes the importance of the people you’re presenting to or the value of the outcome you seek puts far more pressure on you to ‘stick the landing’.

You could be presenting to your C-Suite, pitching your startup to investors, standing up in front of thousands at a conference, or bidding for a game-changing multi-million dollar contract. When the stakes are high, there are techniques you can use to crush a presentation every single time.

What Question Are You Really There to Answer?

Graphic showing people with questions
jambulboy / Pixabay

The best presenters start the process by thinking through two things that will establish the scope of the presentation: 1) what is the context that has led me to prepare this presentation, and 2) what is the key question that the decision-maker wants me to answer?

Context provides the bounds of your presentation. It could be as simple as ‘we need an update on a project’ or as critical as ‘we need to determine whether to green-light a project.’

Using the examples above, the key question might be ‘is the project moving along as planned?’ or, ‘are we confident that we’ll make a profit if we give this the green light?’

Here’s a concrete example I was discussing with a client recently.


We have an opportunity to expand a contract with one of our partners that could triple our share of their business. But doing so will require us to make significant investments to service the business.

Once you have the context of your presentation nailed down, the key question usually presents itself in an obvious way. Here, the key question is simple.

Key Question:

Should we pursue the contract?

Your audience will only take away a few key points from your presentation, so going into the process with a super clear idea of the question your presentation needs to answer is paramount.

Using the correct context to structure your presentation around the most important question means that, when you deliver the answer, it’ll stick with your audience.

State Your Answer as a Bold Claim That Can Be Supported

Nothing is as impactful as a short, bold, pithy statement. One with a point of view.

Starting your presentation with a bold claim triggers an emotional response in your audience. It’s not hugely important that they agree with you or not at this point. What matters is that you’ve made them sit up and pay attention.For your presentation to have any hope of achieving its goals, you’ll need to hook your audience’s attention and keep them engaged. Having a point of view is how you do that.


We should pursue the opportunity with Partner X despite the investments we’ll need to make, because if we don’t one of our competitors will.

Of course, you’ll need to back that bold claim up with sufficient reasons to believe — and that’s how you’ll hold their attention. When it comes to convincing people that your point of view has value, three is the magic number. Most people cannot retain more than seven key points at one time, but in our executive workshops we always recommend 3. Our culture is replete with examples of how important it is to use three of anything.

When we first learn to construct an argument in school, we’re encouraged to use a 3-point thesis because it’s the most convincing start to an essay. The best live presenters rehearse in three steps. The Rule of Three accounts for some of the most engaging literary works and quotable quotes in history.

Man pointing to data
mohamed_hassan / Pixabay

Even Aristotle’s ideas on making an argument can distilled to three simple points:

  • Tell your audience what you’re going to tell them.
  • Tell them.
  • Then tell them what you’ve told them.

Once you’ve made your bold claim and hooked your audience’s attention, back that claim up with three solid supportive points to create certainty. Let the rule of three do the heavy lifting for you.


  • Though the investments required are significant, most are already on our 5 year development plan.
  • Partner X is growing rapidly, we can grow with them if we do this deal. If we don’t, someone else will.
  • The investments we make, along with our expanded partnership, will enable us to pursue even more business in this new category.

Anticipate Red Flags, Resistance and Rebuttals

Man with warning sign
geralt / Pixabay

Humans are hard-wired to resist change. In fact, a part of our brain — the amygdala — is responsible for interpreting change as a threat and triggering our fight-or-flight reflex.

Keep that hard-wired resistance to change in mind when you are writing your presentation. If people’s natural state is to avoid or reject change, it’s your job to get into their head and anticipate what is causing that resistance.

When you’re preparing your presentation, look it over with a critical eye. Isolate precisely what changes you are asking for and think about what might cause your decision-maker to reject them.

From there, all you need to do is build-out your responses to any resistance you might get. This may mean having a few slides ready in the appendix, or simply having a few stories in your back pocket that will build confidence. Having your answers ready will prevent you from getting caught out by challenging questions.

For example, these thoughts might be lurking in your decision-maker’s thought cloud.

  • What if we make these investments and the technology changes, leaving us with technical debt that’s too large to abandon?
  • What if something happens to Partner X that causes them to stop growing?
  • What if I stick my neck out and approve this and it fails?

At the end of the day, everyone is afraid of failure. Your job is to build enough confidence in the decision-maker that they conclude the effort is worth the risk.

Close with a Call To Action or Call To Arms

The end of your presentation is where you close the loop and make your request. This is where you get your opportunity to stick the landing. You must make your request clearly, absolutely and without any whiff of nuance.

If you need a decision made, ending with a Call to Action is what you’ll do. If you’re looking for support, endorsement, or advocacy, then you’ll deliver a Call to Arms. Regardless of which direction you go, adding a credible sense of urgency or scarcity always helps. A ticking clock can be very motivating.

For example:

We’re seeking $X dollars to speed up our work in Y & Z areas to meet Partner X’s timeline. Do you approve?

Sticking the Landing

When it comes to crushing a high stakes presentation, preparation is your best friend.

Preparation also means you’ll know your subject intimately. Knowing you have the answer to the hard questions will give you confidence, and your audience will perceive your confidence as competence.

Finally, don’t forget that the purpose of a presentation is to facilitate a conversation. Stay present and keep your eyes and ears open. Really listen to the questions and comments you get. If you disappear into your notes, you won’t have the chance to react to your audience’s body language. Body language is an excellent indicator of audience resistance.

If you stay present, do your homework and follow the steps above, you’ll have the tools to stick the landing on any presentation, regardless of the stakes.

Read more: How to Create Dynamic B2B Presentations for a Virtual World