For some people, creating effective and compelling presentations is a difficult task. As an executive, I have been on both the giving and receiving ends of presentations throughout my career. During this time, I have been fortunate to have seen some great presentations. Great presentations have a set of common traits; they have a clear message; they have a logical flow and they get their point across without a lot of flair. It goes without saying that in great presentations the presenter is well prepared and rehearsed as well.
Being able to create and deliver great presentations should be a skill that everyone possesses. Great presentations can be created and delivered by any individual, in any role. These capabilities are not reserved for executives, although, they may have more experience. Following some common guidelines will go a long way towards developing these skills.
Over the years I have developed a methodology for creating and delivering effective presentations. It has worked for me, and I thought it important to share what I have learned so that other people might benefit from this experience. Here are a few tips to consider when preparing your next presentation.
The first step in creating an effective presentation is to define a storyline. Many people just start creating slides then try to put a story together. This is a very inefficient way to approach the task. Creating the story first helps define the message you are trying to convey. You should be able to articulate the storyline in 30 seconds or less. Think of this as an “elevator pitch.” It needs to be concise and to the point. Once you have fine-tuned the storyline, write down the three points you want people to remember. This also helps when presenting, and it will help focus your presentation on the critical elements. Once the storyline is complete, you can spend time gathering and organizing the necessary material to back up your story.
Flow & Content
Organizing your presentation in a logical flow is very important. I have coached many individuals who have created their presentation and end up with a “pile of slides” versus a logical arrangement of their information. Therefore, creating the storyline first is important. The flow of the slides should follow the story. The type of slides and their order varies depending on what kind of presentation you are putting together. I generally recommend organizing your flow in the following manner:
Presentation Summary – There is always a big debate on whether to disclose the entire presentation, including the “punchline”, up front or have it play out like a movie where the ending is unknown until the last moment. As an executive, I always thought the latter was a bad idea. I preferred to know where the presentation was going and debate the actions that lead up to the conclusion to validate it. The latter left me guessing on where things were going, and I found myself asking a lot of unnecessary questions trying to figure it out. Providing the answer at the beginning helps everyone be aligned on the topic and contribute towards the final goal.
Problem Statement – Defining what the “problem” or topic is helps get everyone aligned. The presentation will be more effective when the audience understands clearly the issue at hand. The problem statement should outline the current state and how it is impacting the company and its customers. Note: See “The Three C’s” section below.
Background & Research – Outline the research and the actions that were undertaken to analyze the problem. Citing known market research and credible information is a good way to ground your findings. Providing long-term factual trends is beneficial as well. Staying away from assumptions is helpful. If you must assume data points, then disclose the methodology for the assumption. Pulling numbers “out of the sky” will only reduce the credibility of the information provided.
Findings – Net out the research and summarize the salient points of the information you obtained. Outline these in order of importance and how it impacts the business.
Recommendations – A presentation is not complete without a conclusion or recommendation(s). This section should answer the problem statement and should contain some options with your final recommendation. Providing options shows that you thought about multiple solutions to the problem. Let the debate following the presentation validate your recommendation.
Next Steps – All next steps should follow the S-M-A-R-T model. If they are not Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound then it will be difficult to get sign-off on your recommendation(s).
Backup – Some people overuse backup during the Q&A portion of the presentation. I recommend having minimal backup slides, and I also recommend having a list of your slides with slide numbers in front of you on a piece of paper. A Power Point trick is to type the number of the slide while in presentation mode then hit the enter key. This will take you directly to that slide. This eliminates flipping through your entire backup deck. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people painfully looking through their backup slides to find the one piece of data to address a question. My preference is for the presenter to answer the question then ask if the audience would like to see the backup detail. Remember which slide number to return to so you can return using the same method.
The Three “C’s”
Cash, Customer & Competition – I have been able to categorize questions into three areas when I’ve analyzed questions that come up during Q&A. What is the financial impact (Cash)? What is the impact to the customer? How does this compare to the competition? An easy way to remember this is the “Three C’s” (Cash, Customer, Competition.) Most executives are always interested in these three areas.
Templates – Most companies have an approved template and format they like to follow. I have seen some people not use the current, approved template only to be embarrassed at the beginning of the presentation and have been caught off guard and derailed at the start of their presentation when someone suggests that their template is not of the approved standard or is out of date. Also make sure that the company logo is formatted properly and that the all the slides have page numbers.
Clip Art and Animation – I normally advise people to stay away from clip art or animation, although I find that iconography is useful. Finding clip art and building animation are time-consuming tasks. It also shows that you spent way too much time searching for just the right clip art or making sure that the slide animation was built just right. In addition, animation sometimes does not work as planned and the animation build may not come across as you intended. See the dial-in participants section below for related points.
Colors – Unfortunately, projectors are not calibrated with laptop screens. There are some color combinations that may look good on a laptop, but not on a projector. The best way to avoid these issues is to test them on a projector before you present.
Storytelling – The best presentations connect to their audience with a story. Storytelling is a great way to keep the audience engaged. Using real-life stories, humor and personal examples is a very effective presentation delivery technique. It is also a good idea to let the audience know that you intend this presentation to be interactive. Of course, this depends on the size of your audience. It may not be possible with a large audience.
“The Crutch” – Avoid using “The Crutch.” Don’t look back at your slides, nor read the presentation from your laptop nor memorize it word-for-word. It will come across as mechanical or not rehearsed. Make constant eye contact with the audience and have a conversation with them as if you are one-on-one.
Take Notes – When someone asks a question or makes a suggestion it is always a good idea to take notes, especially if you are committing to get back to them on a question. This shows that you are engaged and that you are taking their input seriously.
Questions & No Answer – Try to avoid the “I don’t know” answer. There are better ways to say, “I don’t know.” Prepare in advance for how you are going to answer a question that you don’t have the answer to. Something like “That’s a great question. I plan on addressing that in the days/weeks ahead. Would you like me to schedule some time to go over this with you or will an email update suffice?” Make sure you get back to them on or before the promised time.
Dial-in Participants – Be mindful of people on the phone and make sure you keep them informed on when you change slides, and repeat questions from the audience if the audio from them is not being heard by those on the phone. It is also a good idea to send out the presentation in advance to those dialing in. Another good reason not to have animation on your slides, is that those who are following along with their own copy of the presentation may not be viewing it in presentation mode where animations are active.
Being Nervous – Most people don’t know this, but I have always been terrified to present in front of people. This is even though I have presented hundreds, if not thousands, of times. What helped me is to start out with some humor, focus on the three things I’m trying to get across and remember to talk to the audience about the topic versus reading my slides. Rehearsing the presentation in advance also helps.
You too can deliver effective presentations if you remember to create a good storyline, communicate the three points you are trying to get across, organize your presentation in a logical order, discuss how it impacts Cash, Customers and Competition, and mind your slide design rules. Practicing and rehearsing with a coach or in front of a camera is helpful.
I hope this article was beneficial to you. Drop me a note below if you happen to use this framework. I am interested to know if it helped you create and deliver presentations more effectively.
Have a great day, and don’t forget to make a positive impression today and every day!
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