Pair your dessert with a nice emotional punch

In last week's blog, I made an argument for never ending your presentation on Q&A. This week, I promised to explain more fully what I propose you do instead: serve the audience "dessert." And no, we're not talking cheesecake or crème brulee. So what are we talking about?

Over the course of your presentation, you've packed your audience's heads chock-full of information. So — as you close — the focus is no longer on adding more information. It's about leaving them with an EMOTION. It's about making them feel something, and thereby helping your presentation make the impact you hope for. And that's what your dessert is designed to do for you. It's the (societally acceptable) punch to the gut that leaves them remembering both you and your message. 

Now, I know what you're thinking: "Hey, but my presentation isn't about anything emotional. It's about sharing facts A, B, and C so that I can convince them of the importance of doing X, Y, and Z." Well, here's the thing: no matter how dry your topic, it always has an emotion at its base. No action can be wholly separated from its attendant motivation(s). For example: 

  • Dry Speech Topic: Introducing a revised process for quality reviews. (YAWN.)
  • Possible Motivations for Your Audience to Listen: The desire to avoid wasting their own time, gain a reputation for running an impressively smooth process, keep their bosses and colleagues happy, or avoid getting into trouble. So there's frustration, aspiration, hope, and fear. Take your pick on which one you want to appeal to.

To help you understand what makes a *great* dessert, I again point you back to Peter Meyers' "Stand & Deliver" treatise, As We Speak. In it, Meyers relates a story of the time he spoke to a board hoping to raise funds for a children's theater program. Following his informative, compelling presentation on the benefits of kid's theater programs, he paused for Q&A, and then moved on to the dessert. He then told the story of watching a group of kids audition for one such program. The story, briefly related: chaos reigned supreme until one little girl in long black pigtails approached the stage and the audience grew suddenly silent. As the little girl quietly recited a poem by Dr. Suess, the audience was rapt. Some of the teachers in the back of the room had tears in their eyes. Meyers was confused, and so asked one of the teachers what the heck was going on. She said, tears shining in her eyes, "That's the first time we've ever heard that little girl speak."

And BOOM. When Meyers finished his dessert, the board members eagerly signed the check for the $120,000 that was needed. While the facts were already compelling, the closing story helped them feel how kid's theater programs really could change kids' lives. 

You're not always going to have a little girl in pigtails available to help you land your emotional punch. But there's always going to be something. Also, it doesn’t even have to be real. Sharing theoretical scenarios can be just as emotionally impactful. As Meyers explains, regardless of whether they're fact or fiction, the best desserts tend to use a story, an anecdote, a metaphor, or an image. Whatever form it takes, your dessert should tie back into some of the ideas and themes you’ve talked about earlier in your presentation. (You can also tie it back to your ramp, which is a concept I featured in another blog.) Whatever it is, it should feel directly relevant to the information you’ve shared during your presentation. Again, after you finish your Q&A, you can kick off the dessert by saying, "In closing, I'd like to share a story with you about..." and then jump right in.

Sample desserts for less flashy situations:

  • Your presentation is on the aforementioned, otherwise yawn-worthy revised quality review process. You use the dessert to help them imagine what it's going to feel like when they use the new process to guarantee that they've gotten everything exactly right, the boss is all smiles, and they are able to have that rare day when they get to go home without worry that they've forgotten a dang thing. You start out by saying, "Imagine that..."
  • Your presentation is about a new process for project management. You start your talk by painting a picture of a difficult project that went terribly awry. For dessert, you run through the same theoretical scenario, but the difficult project now ends in triumph and smug self-satisfaction all around.
  • Your presentation is focused on transitioning the company to a new customer relationship management (CRM) tool. Your dessert tells the theoretical story of a new client relationship that (through the amaaaaazing connectivity present in the new CRM tool) leads them to another new client relationship that ends up meaning big revenues for your company and a possible promotion for them.
  • Your presentation is focused on why digestive health is important, and strategies for improving it. For dessert, you tell the factual story of a woman named Nancy whose life was legitimately changed when she realized that she didn’t have to feel bloated, gassy, and terrible everyday — provided that (in her case) she took the single highly simple step of no longer eating food containing high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. (Imagine the audience’s mirth when you relate how she asked you, “You mean I pretty much just have to give up my Diet Coke, my Log Cabin Syrup, and my Dreyer's ice cream habit and I won't be farting all over the place anymore??")

See how that works? Whatever the dessert, it leaves them with a feeling. And it's that feeling that's going to help them remember not only the information you related, but why that information matters. It's the image that lingers. Think of that tiny girl in her shiny black pigtails. You may forget which poem she recited, but you won't forget how that story made you feel. And next time somebody asks you whether you think children's theater programs are important, you may find yourself picturing her, and responding, "Yeah, actually, I do believe they are."