Following my script of last week on “having an eye for detail” and my counsel of ensuring you keep out “cockroaches” from your presentation, as an example of managing details, I wish to share my view on what makes a great presentation. In business, we make presentations practically all the time — to management, the board, shareholders, would-be investors, our bankers, prospective clients, etc. The quality and appropriateness of our presentation as well as the buy-in of the audience could determine our future from a value and legacy creation standpoint.
Fortunes have been transformed by virtue of the solidity of a presentation where key stakeholders have acceded to the “prayers” of a presenting officer. In other words, presentations help to inform and/or persuade depending on the desired outcome — in most cases, the intent being to create possibilities for ourselves and/or our businesses. If you accept this, then it easy to understand that the slides you put up count for little and can even be a put off, the critical success factor being your ability to tell the story in the “cleanest” possible manner to secure the outcome you are seeking. In that context, you must give pre-eminence to the story you wish to tell over the beauty of animated slides.
Don’t get me wrong – you need the slides and there some bosses that get carried away by the design and razzmatazz of the slides, but for the most part, quality leaders are looking to make business decisions on the basis of the value proposition of your story as against the slides. So my counsel goes forth.
(1)Prepare adequately: You must put in the shift. Experienced leaders would be able to read between the lines whether or not you have prepared for the presentation.
The higher the stakes in value-terms, the deeper the preparation. In those days at a multinational company I worked, the rigour applied to preparing for a presentation on a price increase proposal, for example, was better imagined than said. We knew if we got it wrong, competition would easily eat our lunch. We would work well into the night for several weeks crunching numbers, running simulations and doing scenario planning as well as mitigation initiatives.
After all that work, you were given 30 minutes or an hour to sell the recommendation. It was hard work. More importantly, you need be mindful of the fact that all the work done before the day is only as good as how you show up on the day. Have you heard of people prepare hard for an exam only to freeze on the exam day? Well, I have seen that happen as well in business presentations, even to the most adept at presentations – depending on how fresh they are on the D-Day and ability to resist being overwhelmed by the audience.
2) K.I.S.S (Keep It Short and Simple): One of the things I do if expecting a politician in Nigeria to make a speech at an event I am attending, is to be properly fed before leaving the house as they are notorious for long speeches. I had a boss at Coca-Cola that said anything that couldn’t be explained on two pages didn’t exist. Perhaps he exaggerated, but his point was clear — K.I.S.S. Don’t leave people dead by power-point. Go straight to the point. Like a certain Stephen Keague said, “no audience ever complained about a presentation or speech being too short.”
(3) Stay focused on your outcome: As I mentioned already, all your horsepower should be directed at the core message and your “prayer.” Don’t allow anything to distract you and don’t be defensive as comments come through. Maintain your emotional balance and composure throughout. I had a boss who was notorious for consciously unsettling presenters at the beginning of their presentations. He would crack a joke that they might not appreciate. As unprofessional as that might sound, over time, it became clear that was his way of testing the emotional balance of his direct reports and assessing their resolve and passion for the message brought to him. If you disregarded his initial tantrums and you got on with the work, he respected you for that and where it made sense, backed you up. Like someone said, “the price one pays for pursuing any profession or calling, is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.”
(4) Fewer words, better impact: One of the things I dislike most is sitting in a presentation where the presenter is reading the slides on the screen. The problem with that among others is, if there are people in the audience who can read faster than you, then you’ve inadvertently offered them the chance of some seconds to bend down and play with their phones, “waiting” for your next slide while you are still reading. That way, you easily lose them. Furthermore, it’s a sign of your lack of mastery of the subject. For goodness sake — less is more; the fewer the words, the better. Best practice is a quick glance at the slide when it comes up on screen and build your story from that. Making eye contact with the audience and having a confident body language is essential for recording success. Don’t answer a question you are not asked unless you feel compelled to, as this may otherwise lead to further questions that may complicate your life and the conversation. As it is said, your worth is attached to your words. In any setting, more so in the corporate environment, never say a word you’d later wish you never said.
For you the leader (or receiver of the presentation), it’s important to be in the consciousness that when your staff come in front of you to run their presentations, they almost always intend to be at their best. Even if things go wrong and you are unimpressed with the content (as in being off-strategy) or its delivery or both, be kind enough to moderate your displeasure without sounding inauthentic or patronising. Build your disappointment revert from a positive standpoint of acknowledging the effort, where appropriate.
In conclusion, if you have a compelling story, have done your homework well, rehearsed the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) around the subject matter, and you make your presentation interactive and engaging, you should have a good chance of success. If you do this, when you come out of even the most difficult presentations, you could feel like you have been able to run through walls. Please take pride in your story, not your slides.
Barka de Sallah !
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