Are you working on an important presentation? Don’t even open up PowerPoint until you’ve thought through these five things.
1. Determine your primary objective
Know what you want the outcome to be before you start, and structure your presentation or argument to build toward that. Is your primary objective to:
- Share information?
- Change opinions?
- Get people to agree to your plan?
- Act on it?
2. Who’s who? Know your audience
If you didn’t invite the audience or call the meeting yourself, ask the host for specific information about who will be there. Find out if your audience will be
- Lateral peers (on your level/position)
- Subordinate to you
- A mixed group
- Are they people affected but not in a position to make a decision?
3. You are the least imporant audience
Make sure you write your presentation from the audience’s perspective, not yours. You’ll gain trust right away by demonstrating that you understand them. Ask yourself:
- What do they already know about the subject or project?
- Do they care? If they don’t, why should they?
- Do they have preconceived ideas about the subject?
- Did they hear something about it from the office grapevine?
4. Work the room
How will people feel when they listen to you and where will the presentation be given? This is a critical part of your presentation and while it is unlikely to be in your control, you should know about it so you can adjust accordingly.
- Will the audience read an advance copy? (Avoid that if you can; offer to write a one-page summary memo if materials are needed in advance)
- Have they seen other presentations? (Go last if you can.)
- Do they have good sight lines?
- Can they hear you?
- Are they bored, tired, hungry, too hot, too cold?
You’ll need to adjust your presentation to fit the environment. Keeping your text short, flexible, and somewhat vague helps with this – you can decide to elaborate or not depending on your read of the room. (I once experienced a board member jutting his jaw up and down as I belabored a point as if to say “we got it Jen, move on.” I will not ever forget that.)
Consider humor or a game to break up the monotony. One of my favorite examples of using humor was a complicated software implementation presentation I was giving to a leadership team. They were never going to use the software themselves, but they needed to understand why we were implementing it, and they needed to make some policy decisions so we could proceed with the implementation.
So right in the middle I inserted a slide with all their photos and a thought bubble that said “Okay, Jen. We like your charts and graphs just fine. Why are you making us listen to this?” They laughed like crazy (one vice president literally woke up; I kid you not) and it was the perfect setup for what I needed them to do — agree to my plan and act on it.
5. Present like you mean it
Your slides are perfect. Your argument sound. Your graphics engaging and use of humor perfectly tuned to your organization’s culture. Now all you have to do is give it. Here are some tips for presenting like the professional you are.
- Own your content. You are the expert. Project that by standing just to the side of your screen, even slightly in front of it. They’ll have to look at you that way.
- Try to avoid sitting around a table while you present. If you do, your audience will likely stare at the screen the whole time you’re talking, even if there’s only one word on it.
- Arrive early and set up your presentation and run through it. Make sure everything works. Don’t let the technology distract people from you. Use a remote to advance.
- Don’t read the screen! Your slides are your outline, there just to remind you of what you plan to say next.