Here’s how to make a powerful call to action in a business presentation
Calls to action are vital to make in your internal and external business presentations because they are the key moments to persuade decision-makers to take action to support your case. If you don’t include a call to action in each presentation, your results will fall short of their potential.
The most vital moments in your business presentations are at the start and finish. The first points in a presentation tend to be remembered comparatively well (primacy effect) and are transferred into longer-term memory.
Points at the end of the presentation are the most recent and therefore are likely to still remain in the short-term memory (recency effect). These are the most important of all because they are the points people are the most likely to remember and act upon. Therefore, the close in your business presentation is the key time to persuade them to make a decision to support your case.
Typical business situations where a call to action is important:
Presentations to internal stakeholders
- promotion interview committees
- meetings with your boss and your team
- business unit management meetings
- cross-functional committee meetings
- project operations meetings
- executive committee meetings
- board meetings
- ‘town hall’ presentations to your whole workforce.
Presentations to external stakeholders
Externally, you could make informal or formal presentations to any of the following stakeholders and decision-makers, asking for their supportive decisions:
- current and potential clients
- community representatives
- government officials at various levels, including regulators
- lawmakers, their advisers, and voters
- shareholders and investors
- bankers and financial advisers
- journalists at press conferences.
Call to action
All communication is now acknowledged by experts as influencing rather than merely informing, even if the intention is just to inform, like in a progress report. Communication – including presentations – always influences the minds of the audience. Therefore, make the most of the opportunity in every presentation to influence your audience to take action. At the end of your presentation, prompt your audience to follow up on your words.
A call to action (CTA) is what it says, intended to persuade people to do what you ask them at the end of your presentation. It is intended to offer your audience a clear choice, a strong reason to act, such as making a decision or going away from the event to get something happening.
A call to action is a vital part of written material as well – in marketing emails, blogs, advertising and website content.
There are four types of calls to action: change, stop, discourage, and continue:
- Change means you want to persuade the audience to think in a new way or adopt a new idea that influences their behavior.
- Stop is the opposite: you persuade the audience to stop doing something (like using outdated software or work process).
- Discourage is an argument to persuade the audience not to start something if they haven’t already started.
- Continue means you want to persuade the audience to continue doing what they have been doing, such as deciding to continue funding a project, re-electing a candidate, or keep buying a business product.
Only use one type of CTA for each presentation. Otherwise, your message will get watered down. Therefore, assess your audience and decide which CTA applies best to them overall.
Important: Don’t end with your call to action.
Instead, deliver it, and tell your audience what will happen when they do act. Your CTA starts the benefits; your audience members want to know what will happen after they follow your request. Your picture of the improved future will inspire people to act.
Therefore, the basic steps for adding an effective call to action to your conclusion are:
- Make the transition from the last point in your presentation.
- Summarize the main points you have made.
- Make an emotive connection. Refer back to something in your presentation that creates a strong emotion.
- Call your audience to action.
- Outline the benefits that will happen as a result of acting on the CTA.
Keep your objective in mind throughout
Decide on an overall clear objective in terms of what you want, and how to get it as a result of your presentation. Use a theme that helps to give your presentation a good, logical structure that climaxes with the CTA. But don’t hit your audience over the head by continually repeating a theme that is basically your call to action. The attendees will quickly get tired of such repetition.
Guidelines for a strong call to action
Your call to action and your approach to delivering it may vary according to your audience and your speaking style. Although there is no set formula, these guidelines will increase the effectiveness of your call to action:
1. Make your call to action specific, clear and direct.
Keep your call to action tight and brief. The experts recommend articulating it in 15 or fewer words. Use data wherever possible, which helps to keep it tight.
2. Ask your audience to act quickly.
If you have been persuasive and your audience is emotionally invested, the best time for them to act is now. The longer it takes to initiate the action, the more likely your audience will lose motivation. So, an ideal CTA enables your audience to act immediately, perhaps even before they leave the room. If this isn’t feasible, then aim for actions that can reasonably be completed, or at least started, within hours or a day or two. Promptly follow up with the key individuals where you can.
3. Reduce any barriers to action.
To help your audience act quickly, cut out as many perceived barriers as you can. For example, deal with the following questions about your audience:
- Do they need to sign up? Bring forms and pens and pass them out.
- Do they need to read additional information? Bring handouts, or copies of relevant text or web links.
- Do they need approval before they can act? Then make act to organize a meeting with their stakeholders.
- Do they need to pay? Accept as many forms of payment as possible.
A common psychological barrier is the perception that the suggested action is too big or too risky. This is a reasonable concern, and is often best handled by dividing the call to action into several smaller and less risky actions.
For instance, in advocating an organization-wide change program, you could make your CTA the starting point of the program – perhaps something like running a pilot or a trial, running it in a particular business unit, or initiating the first phase of it. If you are presenting to your executive committee, you could make the first point of action their formal approval of the change program and the proposed budget.
4. Focus on benefits for your audience.
Always frame your call to action in the audience’s best interest. This might include playing to your audience’s FOMO (fear of missing out) if they don’t act. But generally you would emphasize the positive aspects of following up on your CTA.
Don’t fall into the trap of making the CTA about you. Making you, the speaker, happy is not going to be highly motivating for your audience. Avoid CTAs like these:
- What I’d really like you to do is…
- I believe it would be a great initiative if you…
- My foundation has set a target of X, which we can reach with your help…
- You will participate in the increased profitability of our company by…
- Make your business unit a healthier place to work so you will be healthier for your family as well as yourself by…
- When you volunteer for this program, you will build your skills and gain valuable experience…
Describe how their own business (and perhaps personal) lives will be improved (if you can show this) as well as the organization when they act. Get them to imagine a successful future.
5. Customize your call to action where you can.
If the people you are presenting to have similar roles such as being in middle management, having a similar technical background, confronted by similar budget problems, dealing with related professional issues, or you are addressing staff in a particular business unit, make your call to action refer to things they have in common with each other.
If you have a relatively diverse audience, remember that audiences don’t act; individuals act. Rather than addressing the group as a whole, try focusing your call to action on aspects that each individual in your audience can relate to. If your goal is to have a new business initiative adopted, like an employee recognition program, each individual in the group, such as an executive committee, may play a different role in supporting this. Focus on that role. You can even mention their name or job title:
- For the committee that controls the budget, the CTA is to allocate the necessary funds.
- For the HR manager, the CTA is to arrange staff allocations for the work on the initiative.
- For others, the call to action may be to attend relevant training or to promote the concept of the new process among their peers.
Their action can be as simple as calling or emailing you for more information, signing up for your mailing list or buying your product. If you don’t tell people what to do, they are unlikely to do it. That call to action works better because it is specific (email tonight and call tomorrow), audience-focused (you’re concerned about that specific issue), and user-friendly (handouts are available in the back of the room).
If you’ve given a great presentation, your audience will want to know what to do next. So help them by giving a clear call to action so they can immediately take the best next steps.