I was standing in front of a roomful of corporate employees about to launch into my training session. I knew the course content had the potential to make a strong impact in their communication and relationships and I had some specific learning goals for the group. But I resisted the urge to dive straight in. Instead, I shared a brief but vivid story about a time the principles I was about to teach had produced an incredibly positive result for me. Only then did I transition to the learning objectives and the course content. Just before I finished, I referenced my story once again and encouraged them to use the new principles we had learned and highlighted an obvious way it would benefit them.
I learned the “Magic Formula” from Dale Carnegie. It involves three parts: an incident, an action and a benefit. Whether your presentation is two minutes long or an hour, the Magic Formula provides a reliable structure and clarifies the action we encourage the audience to take. Here’s how it works.
When we use the Magic Formula, it’s important to begin the presentation with specific evidence. Facts or statistics can be a good place to start, but an incident or personal example is usually the most powerful. In this post, for instance, I began with a brief story for the training session I facilitated. Resist the urge to give a detailed back story. This can be harder than it sounds. In order to get our story straight, we’re tempted to provide all kinds of information that is not quite necessary in order to set the stage. By this time, if the audience isn’t asleep, they’ve usually stopped caring by now! Begin in the present. “There I was…” After that, it’s fine to go back and provide relevant details and context. From there, make the necessary transition to the main points of your presentation.
If you don’t necessarily want your audience to take a certain action as a result of your presentation, then the Magic Formula won’t be of much use. But if you do, make sure you identify the desired action clearly before you give your presentation and then deliver it at the end. As a rule of thumb, the shorter the action, the more likely your audience will recall it. It could be as simple as, “I encourage you to get enough sleep each night,” or “I challenge you to introduce yourself to new colleagues on their first day.” Be enthusiastic and confident. Don’t say you “think” they should do an action, or that you’d “like them to consider” the action. Simply encourage or challenge them and put the ball in their court.
Once you’ve encouraged your audience to take a specific action, follow it up with the benefit to them. Base it off of your evidence or personal incident. Like the action, it should be short and sweet. Resist the urge to include every benefit you can think of. Share the most important one. For instance, if your action is “Use people’s names when you speak with them,” follow it up with a benefit, such as, “… and you will build stronger rapport with them.” Both the action and the benefit should take about five seconds each. Use them to close your presentation.
So, with all of that being said… I encourage you to use the Magic Formula in your presentations. You will influence your audience to follow through on your ideas.
Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader. Receive his new ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or follow him on Twitter.