Communication Skills Blog

I recently posted about how knowing the point of your presentation can help you focus it while you’re preparing it. But if you are trying to give a persuasive presentation, as opposed to an informational one, you need to take a step beyond making a point. You need to come up with a benefit statement. The benefit statement is a simple description of how the audience’s lives are going to be improved by adopting the position or point of view you want them to adopt. If you need to give persuasive presentations, learning to write a benefit statement is a critical but often overlooked tool in your presentation skills kit.

Imagine yourself standing at the doorway to the hall where you will be giving your presentation, and a member of the audience comes up and asks what the presentation is about. This is a test of your presentation skills. Answer with your benefit statement. In other words, tell him how it’s going to make his life better. Your benefit statement explains what your audience will gain from adopting your recommendation:

  • This presentation is about how your department will gain prestige and security by adopting continuous quality improvement.
  • This presentation is about how your sales will improve by increasing the share of radio advertising to 25% in your marketing plan.
  • This presentation will give you a glimpse of the glory and immortality we can achieve by conquering Italy in the name of the Republic.

Each of these is an effective benefit statement. Incidentally, you should only use the last one if you happen to be Napoleon assuming command of the French army in Italy in 1796. I’m not being ironic by including Napoleon. Here was a man with superhuman presentation skills. He had the power of life and death over every person in his audience, but rather than just issue commands, he carefully determined how his audience would benefit from following him. In fact, that army did go on to conquer Italy.

Napoleon knew instinctively the most effective benefits for the soldiers he was addressing. He was, after all, the creator of the Légion d’honneur. You may have to further exercise your presentation skills and do some audience analysis to determine what will most appeal to your audience. You will probably not need to promise them glory and immortality.

There may be a dozen benefits for an audience to adopt the point of view you want them to adopt, but there is one benefit (or at most two) that is dominant. Note that the dominant benefit may vary from audience to audience, even when the topic and goal of your presentation are exactly the same. To take a wild example, if your presentation is intended to persuade an audience of consumers to buy a particular breakfast cereal, the dominant benefits would be different for kids and their parents. You might persuade an audience of kids to eat it because it tastes good or because of its radioactive color. But you would persuade an audience of parents to buy it for their kids because it’s easy to get them to eat it. This is a great reminder that flexibility is one of your most useful presentation skills.

Once you’ve formulated your benefit statement, have it ready for people who ask what your presentation is about. But more important, use it to sell the audience on the point of view or recommendation that you want them to adopt. Learning to write a benefit statement will enhance your presentation skills and make you a persuasive presenter.


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