A great presentation is an amazing tool in engaging your employees. But, I can’t tell you how often I’ve sat through a presentation that was just a report out in disguise.
When asked to do a presentation, make sure that’s what you are actually delivering. Most presentations are far more about reading back information from a slide deck and not the engagement tool you’re promising.
It’s very important to understand the distinction as they are both valuable tools, but they need to be used for the right job.
I once was asked to provide my communications insight and experience on a slide deck about a new project from a very technical business area. Their goal (or “what success looked like” to them) was to inspire curiosity in their audience about their innovative new approach. Sadly, they really missed the mark. It wasn’t the 147 slides that had me worried. It wasn’t their obviously vast expertise on the subject that got in the way. It was the fact they had answered every single question anyone could ever possibly ask right there in the slides. I was genuinely interested in the topic and I was bored by slide four.
They had created a report, and were about to deliver a report. This was not a presentation.
If you want to really engage your employees as an audience, and inspire them to a new idea, it’s a presentation that must be the focus.
The Differences: Presentations vs Report Outs
“A presentation is a chance to share, not an oral exam.” – M.F. Fensholdt
When you are provided an opportunity to speak, you must understand why you are there. Is it to engage your audience or to relay information? Both are important but each has their own approach.
Presenting is from an outside in approach. The audience is paramount when crafting the presentation and the intent is to connect with them around an idea. Look the definition for an understanding. To present something is “to bring to one’s attention, to make a gift to.”
Example: I would present at a conference, introducing your work to another branch, or organization-wide meeting. Usually for a larger group of people looking for a few inspirational and/or actionable takeaways.
Reporting is an inside out approach. The information you are providing to your audience is the focus. As defined by “giving an account of something that one has observed, heard, done, or investigated.”
Example: I would report to executive, or a senior manager’s meeting. Usually for a select group that must make a decision based on the information I’m providing them.
The former is audience based while the later is information based.
I talk a bit more on inside-out, outside-in mindsets here.
Purpose of Presentations
“There’s no way you can give a good talk unless you have something worth talking about.” – Chris Anderson (curator of TEDtalks)
Why are you in front of these people? Why is the focus on you and the words coming out of your mouth? You have to figure that out nand then determine whether it’s a presentation you are giving or a report out you are providing.
A good way to get you on your path is to ask three questions:
- What do I want them to learn?
- What do I want them to feel?
- What do I want them to do?
Presentations are a medium for understanding and connection, not a checked box. Really focusing on how your idea will best be relayed to a particular audience will only benefit you and them.
The 3 Ps
“A talk is a voyage and it must be charted. The man starts out going nowhere, generally gets there.” – Dale Carnegie
If you do determine that it’s a presentation you want to provide, there are three Ps you need to focus on: preparation, presences and PowerPoint.
This is THE MOST important thing you can do. Preparation isn’t just putting the slide deck together and making a note in your calendar of when you’re speaking… it’s rehearsing out loud. It’s timing the presentation. It’s knowing where you need to add or take away from. It’s knowing what’s impactful and where to take a pause.
It is especially where you can define how good your presentation is and how good it could be. If you don’t prepare, you aren’t presenting. You’re reading. And people can do that for themselves, they don’t need you.
One of the biggest benefits of strong preparation is building confidence. The better you know your topic, rehearsing every beat of your presentation and living in the mind space, the more sure of yourself you will be when you are in front of that audience. I once did a workshop 26 times, in six weeks. In the first couple of presentations, I hadn’t prepared so I wasn’t that great. I was a little scattered, my remarks didn’t land and I was letting the slides lead me rather than the other way around. By the end of it, the workshop was a well-oiled machine. The jokes were perfectly told, the timing was spot on and I was ready for any events of the day that might disrupt me. Wouldn’t it have been better if I’d done a lot of that learning before I had an audience for it?
A couple of tips to think about:
- Know your presentation – Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Memorize it. Live in it. Breathe it. Do some run throughs in front of your friends or colleagues in as similar an environment to the actual presentation as possible. Let them critique you. Critique yourself. Rip it to shreds and start over if it’s not working. It’ll only make the presentation stronger.
- Learn who the audience is and prep accordingly – really understand who you are speaking to. If you’re not able to find out on your own, ask your event point of contact about the audience as they will either know better than you or be able to direct you to someone who does. What are they needing to get out of your presentation? What kind of work do they do? Where do they sit in the organization (front line, C-suite, etc.)? How many will be in the room? Any bit of information you can get will help you personalize the presentation, whether that’s a complete overhaul, adding a few relevant slides or tweaking your stories to be more relatable. Speaking of stories…
- Collect stories – have case studies and examples that are relevant and relatable to your audience. Stories are what people use to connect information to their own experiences. If you can provide a story that your audience can see themselves in, the presentation will resonate and be more memorable for it. One tactic I use is that I keep a file of stories as they pop up in my personal and professional life that I can refer back to, and pepper presentations with, in future.
I love my friend Shawn Soole‘s (a hospitality consultant) quote about the P3 of preparation, even if his is more about bartending. It still applies here: “Poor preparation equals Piss Poor Performance.”
Remember: the speaker is the presentation, not the PPT. If it was only about the slides, it would be a handout, not a presentation.
There is one thing being asked of you as you step in front of an audience to present: be engaging. You can’t expect an audience to be engaged if you don’t take the time to be engaging yourself. You’re on display. All eyes and ears are on you. At least you want them to be. So be the kind of presenter that has a presence, because if your energy is up and you’re passionate about your topic, the audience will feel that and be more connected to you.
A couple of tips to think about:
- Dress for the event, not for you – the last thing you want to do is distract from your message. Unless what you are wearing is part of that message, make sure to dress yourself in a way that connects with your audience. I’m not saying a business suit is a standard, nor am I saying t-shirt and jeans only, just that you should dress based on the audience and the event, not as an after thought. And to anyone that says, “But Gary Vaynerchuck and Scott Stratten dress in t-shirts and hoodies, why can’t I?” Simple: You’re not Gary Vee or Scott Stratten. Focus on being a better presenter first. Oh, and stop comparing yourself to other people.
- Be a human – your audience didn’t come to watch text on a screen, they came to see and engage with an actual person. So do the things an engaging person would do: make eye contact with the crowd, speak with inflection and personality, be interesting (funny, passionate, etc.), use your hands, breathe, smile. Be a slightly exaggerated version of yourself.
- Own the room – as the focus of the presentation (not the PowerPoint), fill the room with your passion and energy. Don’t think you’re “less than” the visuals you are showing. Fill the room with your ideas and calls to action as this is what inspires others to be curious, to engage and to take those actions. It’s about being loud, it’s about being so excited about what you have to share that those in the back row (virtual or in-person), lean in to listen.
PowerPoint (or really any multi-media tool but I went with this because it worked with the alliteration)
Your multimedia tool, whether it’s PowerPoint, Prezi, Keynote or any of the other various platforms you can use, is there to provide a structural journey for your audience. It punctuates and compliments the ideas, messages and stories coming from the presenter. Because again, you lead the presentation, the tool doesn’t lead you.
This is a great opportunity for you to show some personality too. As a general rule, templates suck and are the lazy approach as they don’t take the audience or your specific ideas into consideration. If your organization offers or encourages templates, use them for report outs, never for a presentation. They add absolutely nothing of value to your audience.
When crafting your presentation, here are a few tips to consider:
- Be economical – no more than 3 points per slide and no more than 10 words per slide (unless it’s a quote or definition). The audience should be focused on you and the words coming out of you, not busy reading your slide. If they are reading, they aren’t listening. If you want them to read, give them a hand out after your presentation.
- Focus – stick to 3 takeaways in your presentation. Though your presentation as a whole should really only be focusing on ONE idea, how you share that idea should be broken down in no more than three chunks. Tops. No one is remembering anything more than that. If you have more than three, edit down. You choose what you think are the most important, and if they want more, they can follow up after the presentation.
- Consider the visuals – what do you want your audience to look at? And at what time? What do you want them to feel when they look at your visuals? Your imagery tells a story and should enhance your ideas and words, and when you want them to. A presenter should have complete control of the journey: the feeling, the timing, etc. One trick I use is animations. I only use one: appearance (as it’s referred to in PPT) as a way to control what the audience focuses on, when and in what order.
Presentation Rules and Red Flags
“You are not being judged, the value of what you are bringing to the audience is being judged.” – Seth Godin
Some quick rules I follow:
- Shorter is better – no one ever said, “I wish that presentation went longer.” It’s better that you leave with them wanting more than being happy it’s over.
- Never present longer than your allotted time – it’s unprofessional and shows little respect for the other speakers and the organizers. You’re making it about you, rather than about the event.
- Leave questions to the end – in a presentation, you’re the presenter, the audience is there to listen. When’s the last time you heard someone ask a question in the middle of a TEDtalk? Save any questions to the end or offer them a way to connect with you afterwards. In a report out, questions are far more appropriate through out.
As you work your way through the 3 Ps, consider the red flags that could show you’re off target:
- If you have to use smaller font to squeeze all your text into a slide. RED FLAG
- If you can print the slides off as a PDF and hand it to someone and it does the same job the presentation would. RED FLAG
- If you have very few to no visuals. RED FLAG
- If your words and language are there to make you sound smart but no one knows what you’re talking about. RED FLAG
“If you don’t care enough to be engaging, why should your audience be engaged?” – Russel Lolacher
What’s the first thing you feel you need to focus on to improve your future presentations?