Practice is the Secret to More Impactful Presentations
A “stand and deliver” presentation on your results is always nerve-wracking. But you know what’s even more painful? Watching a direct report flounder as they struggle to give a powerful presentation.
Start By Remembering How and What You Learned
Remember when you…
- couldn’t sleep the night before
- were so stressed, you missed the main idea
- failed to anticipate the political dynamics
- used the wrong words, which took the entire conversation downhill
- didn’t have supporting documentation
- couldn’t answer obvious questions
- left them with the wrong impression?
What didn’t kill you can make them stronger.
This month I am spending time with each of my Director teams conducting “teaching” operations reviews. Modeled after performance meetings all executives at our company do each quarter, we brought the drill-down to the frontline and middle management level. In fact, in the review I just completed, we had 5 levels of leadership in the room, all working together to become better at selling their strategic stories. Leaders teach other leaders to build powerful presentations. Leaders growing leaders.
The Powerful Presentations Process
We asked each team to develop a formal Powerpoint deck highlighting their results, opportunities and action plans. The teams co-presented strategic stories to a cross-functional panel of leaders. It was an operations review in every sense of the word. They took me deep into their work. I asked provocative questions, with a twist lots of time-outs and immediate feedback and coaching. My Directors asked too, with a different perspective. Slide by slide, we talked about what could make their presentations more powerful.
The Powerful Presentations Ground Rules
- All feedback is given in the spirit of love and development
- This is about teaching you to operate at the next level or more. The questions will be tough, and you may get stuck. That’s okay.
- We are going to interrupt, give feedback, ask questions, dispute statistics, drill down, question slide format, share stories of our mishaps, and raise political dynamics along the way
- I also promise to share my “inside voice” (this is what I immediately think when you say that or when you show me that slide)
Crafting Powerful Presentations
We encouraged the teams to build their talk track strategically to answer these 3 questions
- What key message do you want me to remember?
- What do you need me to do?
- Why should I believe in you?
What They Learned about Powerful Presentations: (as reported in the debrief)
- Anticipate the questions based on execs in attendance (i.e. Finance, HR, Field)
- Understand every number and point on the slides
- Have back-up data
- Understand your back-up data (sounds obvious but can be trickier than you think)
- Ensure your boss is aligned with everything you are going to share (never blind side your boss)
About the Slides
- Less is more, keep the slides clean and simple
- Avoid cutesy graphics and distracting movement
- Include trending
- Forecast improvement. Based on this plan, I commit to having this metric be at (X) by (Date)
About the Talk Track
- Begin with a problem statement, then share actions
- Call out the opportunity first, if something is a problem point it out (before your audience does)
- Ask for what you need
- Be brief and be gone (don’t keep asking for more questions, quit while you’re ahead)
- Acknowledge and thank your peers (in the room and outside of it)
- Reference previous presentations (“as Jane just share”)
- If you don’t know an answer. DON’T make one up
- It’s not about telling me how hard you work
What I Learned
- my people
- the real deal
- what I must do next
- the team appreciates this kind of development
- Ideas from other leaders about building powerful presentations
if you are an executive, take the time to teach your team to build powerful presentations. They will be nervous, it will be a stretch, they will work extra hours and leave frustrated and invigorated.
They will thank you.
December 2021 Update
If you’re reading this article on powerful presentations, you’ve found one of my early posts, written when I was still an executive at Verizon. In case you’re curious, you can read more about why I decided to leave my day job to pursue growing leaders, here.
If you are working to help your team get better at executive presentations, I’m including a few additional articles that will help.