There are lots of presentation subjects, but all presentations have a single purpose: effecting change. Changing minds, changing tactics, changing suppliers, changing focus—whatever the presentation is about, if it is successful, it will change something.

That’s why the Call to Action is the most important (and one of the most frequently overlooked) parts of a presentation. It’s not that people leave the call to action out entirely; it’s more that they kind of phone it in, almost as if they’re just relieved to get to the end and they just gloss over the next steps.

Why Every Presentation Needs a Call to Action

A masterful call to action will include the usual conclusion elements (the “tell them what you told them” part of the old adage about public speaking), but do so in a way that distills the knowledge down to actionable next steps. So it’s more than just, “Today we talked about X, Y, and Z and how important they are to your business.” It’s, “If you agree that X is having a negative impact on your business, that Y can help you to isolate the issues, and that Z is an effective strategy for moving forward, then here is what you need to do to start down that path.”

At that point, the “action” part is introduced: the audience members go to this or that website, call this or that representative, schedule the next meeting in your sales process, etc. Whatever the next step is, they do it because they agree with X, Y and Z.

Which begs the question: “What if they don’t agree with X, Y, and Z?” Well, a strong call to action will ferret out those individuals in the audience because every call to action should include a positive and negative next step. “If you do not believe X is having a negative impact on your business, etc., then what I want you to do is ___.” As presenters, we want to know when we haven’t convinced. Not only do we want that second opportunity to effect change, but we need that information so that we can adapt our message.

In theory, the quality of the presentation content—the flow, the logic, the angle and the subject—should be fairly systematic and black-and-white. But anyone who has ever presented knows that we often uncover the real issues as we speak about what we thought was the real issue. So your call to action needs to include steps for those that are not yet tracking with you as well as those that are.

The one thing that should be non-optional in a call to action is the passive response. No one should ever leave your presentation unsure of how to act, or unmotivated to. That means, for the negative call to action, you need to give them a reason for acting. The motivation is implicit in the positive call to action—they believe you, so they perceive you’re offering a solution to their problem. But if they don’t believe you, they’re initial motivation is to just keep on doing or thinking what they’re doing or thinking. To re-engage them at this point, you need to give them a reason to reach out.

The call to action is the most important part of your presentation. It gets you results, but it also gets you priceless feedback that will help you hone your message and improve. Take time to carefully construct the ending of your next presentation, develop an easy way to track the results, and see if you don’t end up with a much better feel for how successful the presentation was.

Question: How do you end your meetings? What specific tasks do you “assign” to the audience?

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