by Christina Pungerchar
Lately I have been working on a series of presentations. Some with small and informal groups while others to large audiences of the scripted variety. Regardless of the topic, audience, or venue, there are common themes across all of the possible varieties.
Think about it…..think about those slam-dunk presentations where you almost wanted to stand-up and say FINALLY! Think about those presentations where you were wincing in pain the entire time embarrassed for the presenter. Now what about all of the other ‘vanilla’ presentations? The average, the mundane, what was it that they were talking about, eh, never mind.
There. Right there is an issue. How to stand out? How to hit it out of the park? While having confident and charismatic presenters is always a plus, let’s face it, not everyone can be ‘on’ at all times…..even ‘the best’ of presenters.
Rather than focus on the tricks of the trade for presenting, which is undoubtedly an art, what about the presentation itself?
If afforded the luxury of time, take it. Often times there is short notice to pull a presentation so having a game plan in any circumstance is key. Keep it simple, keep it succinct, keep it interesting, and keep the presenting team informed!
Of the presentations that I have been involved with, planning and presenting, the most unsettling is that portions of the team (usually senior management) presume that everyone involved has prepped and presented a million times before….just like they have. As managers we need to be sure that all team members are aware of what the goal is and how to get there. ‘Back in the day’ there was this really terrific method of approach called a story board……the short version, plan the preso.
First, identify those key team members who will be the keepers of the information. Who will chase down the information for the presentation? Who will run the production and set-up meetings for review? Once the Preso-Management is set, what is the strategy? This is where the story board is born. The team should be brainstorming about the overall message and the general theme. A method for the presentation – is it new and fresh or consistent with past efforts – is necessary for a cohesive approach. Consideration as to the audience needs to be made at this point as well.
The people listening are to be thought about – are they a conservative audience? Are they beyond that cutting edge? A strategy session is a great starting point. Get everyone together in a conference room with a big white board and throw all ideas out there. Then methodically and critically, select and slice the information for the story board. This will be your guide and should be kept cohesive. How do you know that you have a positive approach to the presentation? Typically, your first gut feeling and reaction to how to go about structuring an approach is right. This is, however, ONLY if you have planned and thought the strategy through. Shooting from the hip here is unlikely to be a full success.
So you have your ringer of a team and you have your strategy……now what about content? Relevance is required. I have sat through many presentations where the content message is lost to images or charts that swoop in from off screen or are built from a standard program pixilation ‘because the presenter could’. While these animations are useful in select conditions, generally, they cloud the point of the information. Focused, accurate, and relevant information to your ‘story board’ and strategy are the essentials. Be thoughtful with those photographs and references in building your presentation. If you are a consultant, think through what you are sending to your client. The images and criteria provided are for another entity but you could have sent information that reflects working with your client, you may have missed an opportunity. As a general rule, trying to consider what it is like to be seeing and hearing your slides with a critical eye is a help. Rather than looking at your slides and patting yourself on the back with how incredible they are, step back, assess, and rework. This suggests, of course, that time is being considered a teammate. Challenge each slide or board with the quant-essential ‘so what?’ with regards to the graphics and background talking points… Keep in mind that today’s audience has a limited, if not fleeting, attention span and to stay on point, poignant, and potential engaging is invaluable.
The effort for a presentation is not slight. Regardless of the audience, be it a weekly meeting with a client that has been working with you for years, a potential client interview, or a seminar at a conference, these are all opportunities of Marketing and possible Business Development. The thought put into a presentation and the strategy behind it are a necessary part of formulating ideas in methods which are understandable to an audience. These are opportunities to share developments in current work and develop future relationships. Treat them with care as they last long after any presentation.
Christina Pungerchar, LEED AP BD+C, is a Project Manager at Vanderweil Engineers in Boston.