Powerful Presentations: Teaching Your Team To Talk Strategy

A “stand and deliver” presentation on your results is always nerve-wracking.But– watching your team do one is down right scary.

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. Modelled 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 teaching 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)

About Preparation

  • 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

Lots about…

  • 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.

The Obvious Question: And How to Get It Right

In most organizations an important part of leading is being able to articulate and “sell” the great work of your team to other key stakeholders. Strong results and quality thinking in bad packaging can be overlooked. A great presentation can quickly go south, when the team gives sloppy answers to obvious questions.

In her book, Speak Like A CEO: Secrets for Commanding Attention and Getting Better Results, Suzanne Bates cautions leaders to “expect the expected.” Although this seems obvious, it’s the inability to answer the easy and obvious questions that I have seen derail operations reviews, sales pitches, and careers. She shares,

“When Ted Kennedy announced he was running for president, Roger Mudd sat him down in a famous interview and asked, “Why are you running for President?” Kennedy stammered though the answer, and the result was disastrous to his candidacy. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is failing to expect the expected.”

Some Obvious Questions That Trip People Up

.Here are some examples of questions I have asked recently, or have heard others ask in contexts where I was sure the team knew the answers. For one reason or another, they got stuck.

  • Why have your results improved so substantially?
  • What was different in August?
  • How do you know?
  • How does this compare to your competition?
  • What’s changed since implementing this program?
  • How do you know it’s working?
  • What are the employees saying about the change, how do you know?
  • How do you know this is sustainable?
  • What would a pilot teach us?
  • What do you want to do next?
  • Why are you interested in this job?
  • What are you looking for in this mentoring relationship?

Prepare for the Obvious Questions

My experience is that most of this problem comes from over-preparation, rather than under-preparation. Teams spend so much time on all the detail memorizing facts and figures, studying charts that they forget to look up and join the conversation. They’ve prepared for the hardball questions, but miss the easy pitch coming straight down center field.

Here’s some things that can help:

  • Have a talk track, be prepared for a detour
  • Brainstorm all possible questions in advance
  • Practice the answers out loud
  • Do a dry-run with good questioners, ask them to ask tough ones
  • LISTEN carefully to the question actually being asked
  • Consider who is asking the question and why
  • If needed, pause before answering, think before talking
  • NEVER make up an answer, when in doubt take a note and a commitment to circle back