There are presentations and then there are Presentations. You know what I mean. There are certain presentations you can whip together in your head while on the way to the conference room, balancing a cup of coffee in one hand and eating a donut with the other. These are the routine presentations you do week in, week out and that have become second nature. Such as status report updates to the project team, or a compilation of lessons learned from the most recent project.
But, then there are Presentations. These you can’t just whip together in a couple of minutes. They are special. They can make or break the direction of your next project. Or, they could set you and your company up for an influx of business, if they are introducing a new product or service. These types of presentations require a great deal of preparation, review, rework, review, rework, review, rework…well, you get the point. You can’t just wait until the last minute and think you or the information will come across well.
When to Give Your Presentation Extra Attention
How do you know if your presentation needs extra attention? Below are a few characteristics to be on the lookout for:
- Big Numbers – The first characteristic to look for is how many people will be in attendance. A Presentations is going to bring in at least one hundred and possibly thousands of people.This is not your usual half-dozen people wandering into a conference room for a quick update. These are people who are coming for a specific purpose and are looking for you to deliver on their expectations.
- The Location – Did a conference room have to be rented at the large hotel up the street? Is it in a large conference center near the airport? This is another sign that you need to be stepping up your game exponentially and not phone this one in…unless, of course, it’s a virtual presentation. But, don’t take the online venue for granted, either. There could easily be hundreds of people tuned into the online event, in which case you want to execute flawlessly as well.
- The Purpose – You know when you are giving a Presentation when the purpose is not to provide a quick update or collaborate about some issues that have arisen. You’ve wandered into new territory when the purpose of the presentation is to sway people’s opinion, ask for commitment and buy-in, or lead them down a new path.
To make sure a pivotal presentation is top notch, voluntarily run it down the presentation gauntlet. Running the gauntlet is a phrase derived from military history; a criminal would be punished by running shirtless down the middle of two rows of soldiers, to be repeatedly struck by whatever instrument or switch they were holding. Today, it is more symbolic than anything else and means to withstand a number of arduous tasks delivered sequentially.
If you want your presentation to be the best presentation possible, and are ready to run down the presentation gauntlet, go through these six challenges before you even consider putting up the first slide on the screen:
Six Presentation Challenges
#1. The Account Executive – Let’s assume that this is a presentation that will be given to a client and their team of employees, contractors, vendors or whatever another large group of people they invite. Let’s also assume that this client account is managed by an account executive at your company.
That person is a good place to start with, to get feedback about your presentation. The account executive will know the history of that client, where they’ve been, and know where they are going. They’ll be able to provide insight into any areas of discussion you may want to avoid, and which areas may be good to spend more time on.
Warning: this first challenge is going to be painful. The account executive will most likely have a different take on the presentation and what needs to be accomplished, and you need to mentally prepare yourself for that. Don’t worry; it gets easier from this point forward. Or, who knows, maybe you just get numb…
#2. Your Marketing Department – Second stop for feedback is your own marketing department. They will undoubtedly have an opinion about the graphics you have chosen, and it may not be favorable.
Plus, they may inform you that the new product you are pitching had its name changed at the last minute. They’ll have a critical eye and catch those types of potentially embarrassing faux pas, so be grateful for their attention to detail and embrace their feedback and assistance.
Your marketing department can transform an okay presentation that leaves a little to be desired, to one that can set the room on fire with energy and excitement.
#3. Your Project Team – The third set of eyes you need to run the presentation by is your own team. They can make sure you haven’t fat fingered in a date and accidentally moved it up one month before it can be completed. Or, you may have the order of steps backward. Your project team is a great reality check to make sure everything on the presentation is technically accurate.
#4. Your Boss – By this time, you’ll have a pretty good feel for what the final presentation is going to look like. It’s now time to pass it by your boss. If you’ve incorporated the feedback from the account executive, marketing people, and your project team, he or she will most likely have very little to say. They may have a question about a slide or two or provide some suggestions on how to get a particularly powerful point across, but that’s about it.
Funny story. I worked for a guy who never had time to review my presentations. That’s okay; I still gave him the opportunity, knowing he would decline, but he basically trusted my ability to make them good.
What he did like to do, however, was making a big deal in front of everyone at the presentation about incorporating his feedback. He would always ask, “You incorporated my feedback, right?” in front of the VPs and Executives attending the event. Now, he knew and I knew that his feedback was NOTHING. However, I would dutifully say, “Yep, your feedback has been incorporated.” It gave the other executives a pseudo-level of comfort and always gave us something to laugh about.
#5. The Client – You always want to do a walk-through of your presentation with the client before putting it on the big screen. Your presentation is about as fully baked as its going to get, but this is a great time to make sure there are no surprises, technical hang-ups or miscommunications. It also provides you both an opportunity to orchestrate who is going to say what during the presentation, and how you will play off of each other.
#6. Yourself – This is, and should be, the toughest challenge of all. Actually, you should be challenging yourself the entire time of putting the presentation together.
Do you feel good about the presentation? Does it flow the way you need it to flow? Is it conversational and engaging, or herky-jerky and painful to listen to? Be honest with yourself and fix it while you can.
Always see yourself in the position of standing in front of a group of a couple hundred people, with your presentation on the large screen. You get one shot to make it awesome. Have you done everything you can to guarantee it blows everyone away?
Run the gauntlet before you have to give a Presentation so that you won’t have to withstand a number of arduous questions during or after it. You’ll set yourself up for success and establish a track record of skillful navigation through complex, pivotal presentations.