With most gatherings and meetings back to in-person, it’s a good time to tune up your presentation skills. Here are my five important questions and answers when preparing to present:
What is the purpose?
While this seems like a pretty obvious question, it’s one that many presenters forget to ask. Are you simply imparting important information? Generally this is not the case. You may be presenting information about your organization’s insurance open enrollment period, but you likely want your audience to review the options, understand the deadline, and take action if needed. Do you have a clear call to action? Most presentations are made to both inform and persuade. Be clear and direct about what you want your audience to do.
Who is my audience?
Take the time to learn about your audience. Even if it’s an internal audience of employees, it is important to get a sense of how much they know about the subject and how receptive they are likely to be. If it’s bad news, it’s a good idea to test your message in advance and get input on potential concerns and questions. Often you can address those questions within your presentation. If it’s an external audience, you will also want to research how familiar they are with your topic and anticipate questions and concerns. What else should you know about your audience? Why did they invite you, what are their demographics, and what does this group have in common? It’s important to connect with your audience and taking the time to learn about them will help you prepare and deliver a successful presentation.
Do I need a PowerPoint?
Maybe yes. Maybe no. The purpose of a PowerPoint is to help guide the presentation, reinforce your key messages, and help the audience stay focused. It’s a powerful and important tool if you have a lot of information to present. If you have a shorter presentation or are presenting where a/v could be a challenge (such as a large auditorium) skip the PowerPoint. If you do use PowerPoint, here a few rules:
How can I project energy and authority?
Even the most experienced presenters can get a case of nerves. My best antidote is to rehearse. Being familiar with the material will allow you to be more comfortable and confident. It’s best to rehearse with a colleague, friend or family member. If you aren’t able to do that, remember that you still need to rehearse out loud. That will help you identify words or phrases that might trip you up and to accurately time the presentation. The more familiar you are with the information, the more comfortable and confident you will be in your delivery. The best presenters not only project authority on the subject, they also energize the room. Having good energy does not come from shouting, but rather from knowing your material, believing in your message, and connecting with your audience. If you feel good about what you are presenting and have rehearsed, it’s easier to take your energy level up a notch and to connect with your audience through good eye contact.
How do I Handle Questions?
If you invite questions at the end of your presentation and there are none, do you say a quick thank you and scurry to your seat? That may be tempting, but if there is time allotted for Q and A, you may need to help get it started. Be prepared to ask yourself the first question. “A question I often get is…. ” That can break the ice. If you’re presenting a difficult topic or to a large group, you may want to consider allowing the audience to submit questions in writing or by using an electronic method, such as Slido. And what about the dreaded question that you aren’t sure of the answer? Be humble! Ask for help from your colleagues, “phone” a friend in audience, or simply say “That’s a great question, but I don’t have enough information to answer it. Let’s connect before we leave to exchange information and I’ll be certain to get the answer to you.”
Taking the time to determine your purpose, learn about your audience, rehearse your material, and anticipate questions can help you be a more confident presenter.
LeadSpark consulting offers group and individual presentation training and coaching. Contact Paula Otto at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a journalist, PR professional, college professor and CEO, Paula Otto has held senior
leadership roles for more than 30 years. Paula was part of the leadership team that created the
Virginia Lottery and served as its executive director from 2008-2018. During her tenure, the
Lottery had record growth and was recognized as a “Best Places to Work” by the Richmond Times-
Dispatch. As a consultant, Otto’s work encompasses leadership coaching, business ethics, issues
management, media relations, and public speaking.
I had just transferred from the audit practice to the consulting practice of an international accounting firm. Already a partner in the firm, this was a total change of career for me. The first week of my new assignment I accompanied John, my new supervisor, to visit the CEO of a major academic medical center. We were implementing a new strategy for their business, and the CEO had questions – “How much market share are we going to gain if this is implemented? Will the market share gains pay for your fees?” Logical questions we should be prepared to answer. The problem for me was that I had no experience in answering this type of question, and it was one that we could not “know” the answer to – I was dealing with two unknowns:
I was terrified. Here I was – a “consulting partner”. I was supposed to have answers. I had not answered a question on market share since my economics class in college. How could I think about this and answer the question so that I would not look like an idiot?
I began to think. I knew that gaining market share is hard. There were several competitors in the market and that it would be a battle to get patients from them, so the number really could not be that big. I took a deep breath, wrote an answer, and put it on the table. Interestingly, all our answers were within a very small range of market share gains!
That experience was years ago, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. Why? What really happened that day?
Most teams today deal with challenges and problems they haven’t seen before. They are called on to help businesses move forward in new business models and environments while dealing with new challenges. As you and your team face the ambiguity in these situations, remember to:
Susan Rucker is a seasoned executive with over thirty years of progressively responsible positions managing high performance teams and growing businesses. Her current focus is helping businesses and people navigate the rapidly changing business environment we all face today.
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