By Thomas Leech
The company was undertaking several changes in makeup and direction. It had acquired two new operations and divested itself of one that was no longer a good fit. Due to changing technologies, some new products were being introduced, with personnel shifts occurring frequently. Management concluded the firm needed stronger communication with the employees who were spread out across several states. The method it chose to increase communication was a series of all-hands meetings, with presentations from the CEO and several key executives.
This is an example of why leaders choose the avenue of presentation as the means of communicating their vision, progress and plans. And using this avenue enhances the corporate team’s knowledge and spirit, while providing it with information and ideas. The audience for such a presentation might be all the company’s employees, its management staff, sales operation, current or prospective customers or an industry group.
Preparing such a presentation is generally not a simple task, and may involve several speakers as well as support talent. Here are a few ideas for creating a winning presentation.
Start early. In this hectic world, preparing a new presentation can be a major intrusion onto the daily schedule. If it were something that could be done in a few minutes, you might readily squeeze it in, but knowing this task will take some time often means it gets shelved until later. But, soon, “later” is the afternoon before the next day’s presentation. Options, then, are limited, including acceptance of a second-rate event.
Get the support crew involved up-front. Use help on staff, like the communication manager, the PowerPoint pro, the presentations coach or whoever is readily available. Their expertise can ensure creation of a better product and reduce stress on the speaking team.
Put time to practice on the preparation development schedule. When you’re trying to inspire the team, you don’t want to stumble your way through the presentation. A poor performance sends two negative messages: (1) the audience is not especially important to you, and (2) presentations are not very important. Practice in making a presentation may not make it perfect but it can greatly improve it.
Give some thought to the nature of your audience. The easy route is to work up the presentation and assume that it will fit any of the groups you’re likely to be talking with. The trouble with this approach is that your presentation might fit well with Group A and not at all with Group B.
Make your presentation personal and fun, if appropriate. If this is a presentation to your associates, such as an all-hands meeting, or a project team booster session, weave in some personal stories about the event, organization, project or key players. One leader made the event similar to Oscar Night, with a series of “attaboy”/”attagirl” awards to team members. Poking fun at yourself is another way to connect with the group, showing that you are human, not some remote executive. On the other hand, if the purpose of the meeting is to announce a major layoff, acknowledge the seriousness of the discussion.
Have a good ‘grabber’ to open your presentation. Open with a movie clip, recorded theme song, an interesting tale of success or woe—something that suits the meeting spirit and connects to the presentation theme. Be careful about opening with a joke, especially if you’re inclined to forget the punch line (as one CEO did before a significant industry audience).
Shape the presentation to convey the theme and core messages you want to communicate. Organize your presentation into four to five segments, with clear transitions to make it easy for listeners to follow, a quality often lacking in many presentations.
Reinforce your main points with material that will hold your audience’s interest. If a customer has praised your team, this makes a good testimonial. If a key team member met a critical challenge successfully, tell your audience the story and have that person stand up to be acknowledged by his or her peers. Refer to a recent news report or cartoon that adds currency and perhaps humor. Be careful with your choice of examples.
If you’re using projected visuals, such as a PowerPoint presentation, put some spark into the graphics. Come up with some pictures or illustrations rather than a series of boring bullet-point charts. For associates, weave in some of the dynamic effects readily possible with today’s software programs, but be careful about cutesy gimmicks with customers or your own higher-level management. Above all, make your visuals readable with clear messages, not just a bunch of information.
End your talk with a summary of your major points and a memorable “closer.” Try something that will stick in your audience’s mind. Stay away from “All right team, let’s go out there and win one for the Gipper!.”—it’s been done.
Don’t think it’s over until it really is--be ready for audience questions and comments. This is definitely an area for preparation, rehearsal and coaching. This is especially important when speaking to audiences likely to probe for additional information, such as stockholders and members of the press. If you are addressing your team, you may have to encourage them to ask questions. If they hold back, be prepared to start discussion with some questions of your own.
A presentation can be one of your best tools for conveying important messages and inspiring your workforce to move forward to achieve your vision. But you won’t achieve either if you haven’t organized your presentation well. That’s the first step to execution of your vision.
About the Author(s)
Thomas Leech is author of AMACOM's award-winning How to Prepare, Stage & Deliver Winning Presentations, 3rd Edition (2004). He has provided executive and team coaching, training seminars and conference programs for organizations nationwide. For information check www.winning-presentations.com