If you’ve ever been to a meeting, then chances are you have sat through at least one bad presentation. A presentation that contains a series of slides with so much text that nobody can actually read it. A presenter that takes the time to go through every bit of that text on all 40 slides. Content so bland that it makes you want to fake an illness. And let’s not forget clip art…
Why are these presentations so bad? Is it because the presenter is nervous, or simply not an eloquent speaker? Is it because PowerPoints are inherently painful? No, I believe it is simply that these individuals have not been trained how to present. The ability to present is not a talent that is reserved for only the most charismatic individuals. Anybody can learn to be an effective presenter. They just need to be given the proper guidance and training in order to successfully deliver their message.
Nowhere is this more important than in the consulting world. In my time, I’ve seen many consultants put in a lot of hard work into developing deliverables, only to have them fall flat in a client presentation. It’s not because the deliverables were of poor quality, but because the message was not properly conveyed. A poor presentation tends to reflect negatively upon the subject of that presentation.
Presentation is a practiced skill. With the proper training and experience you can strengthen your skills over time. Yes there will be times when things won’t go smoothly. For instance, when your presentation is scheduled for an hour, but your client tells you they only have 15 minutes. However, if you start with these 7 basic principles you can avoid many of the pitfalls of the bad presentation.
1. Know Your Audience
Whenever you are presenting, it is essential to know your audience. A technical team may want a very detailed explanation of the topic that consist of 40 slides, however if you’re presenting to a CMO or CIO, your presentation will need to be more succinct and to the point. Knowing your audience will help you create the right type of presentation.
2. Set Expectations
When presenting project deliverables, it’s important that your audience understands where you are within a given process. If it’s only the second week of a twelve week project and you’re showing some early design concepts, then your audience should know that they are being involved early on in the process. That will set their expectations for the completeness of the work they are seeing. It would be a mistake to assume that everybody attending understands the project schedule and milestones heading into the meeting. For this reason, I typically begin my presentations with a project timeline that shows the client where we are in project and what are the next steps.
3. Provide context
Don’t assume the client knows what they reviewing. You know it, you’ve been working on it for the past week, however the client may have no idea what they are reviewing and why they are reviewing it. Take a style tile for example. A style tile utilizes, colors, fonts, typography, imagery and iconography to convey the visual communication of a site without specifying the layout, content or functionality. However without the proper context, a client may interpret a style tile as a mockup of the site. As a result, they may be giving you feedback on elements such as the layout or content, instead of the visual communication. Which brings me to my next principle.
4. Give Direction
Before you ask for feedback on a deliverable, you should specify the purpose of the deliverable and the type of feedback you are looking for. If it’s a style tile, you may want feedback on the aesthetics and branding elements. If it’s a prototype, you may want feedback on the organization of content or specific interactions. Whatever your goals are, if you establish the rules upfront, you will get more valuable feedback.
5. Focus on the Why
When presenting something like wireframe or a mockup, its important to focus on the design decisions you have made vs. the elements that exist on the screen. I’ve seen too many designers struggle because they gave a tour of their design, instead of focusing on the why. When a designer simply points to a feature and describes it “Here is the login box”, they are simply pointing out what the client can clearly see. The message that should be expressed is “We included a highly visible login area on the home page, because it is a primary task for our users coming into the home page. The placement, which aligns with best practice standards, is in the area where users expect to find it.” This type of explanation will validate your design decisions and communicate to the client that every detail of the design has a purpose. Clients want to know that you’ve thought about their unique challenges and have provided solutions that address those challenges. If you and the client agree on the intent, then you can work together to refine the specific execution of the concept.
6. Know Your Material
Nothing is more frustrating than a presenter that just reads the text on a slide or in the above example, just points out what can be plainly seen. If the presentation had all the information that the client needed, then they wouldn’t need you to present. You are a very important part of the message. And in order for you to be effective, you must know your material. That doesn’t mean that you have to memorize every bullet on your slide, or perfectly recapture what’s in the notes. You can simply focus on what you feel are the most important elements and then let your excitement shine through. If you’re excited about the topic you’re presenting, the client will feel it too.
7. Engage Your Audience
This principle goes hand-in-hand with knowing your material. You can’t communicate with your audience if you’re staring at your presentation. As the presenter, it’s your responsibility ensure that you’re audience is engaged. The best way to do that is by putting their needs at the forefront of your messaging. Whenever possible, connect directly with the individuals in the room and address their challenges. Also, pay attention to the feedback you’re getting (verbal and non-verbal). If you’re unsure whether you’re capable of reading body language, check out this article by R.L. Howler (http://www.presentationdynamics.org/read-your-audience/). Focus on the points that are hitting home and gloss over topics that are not of interest. The key is to keep the audience engaged so that you can successfully deliver your message.
Yes, presentation is a skill. It’s something that can be learned, practiced and mastered. It may not come naturally to everyone, but following these basic principles will set you on the path to more effective presentations.