Tuesday 24 October 2017

How do I avoid making a mess of a key presentation and impress my senior managers?

Be yourself — lots of professional people are nervous at the thought of public speaking
Be yourself — lots of professional people are nervous at the thought of public speaking

David O'Reilly

Q I have been given the task of making a presentation to my senior managers and some key customers about a new product for which I am responsible. I have no experience in making presentations and am so nervous about the event. I am afraid I will make a complete mess of it.

A Firstly, you should understand that just about everyone feels daunted by public speaking, even those who appear most confident. Some people may be natural public speakers, but most need to work hard at it. Being your natural self is a good place to begin. It is not an acting role, so don't try to be someone else or some smooth-talking alter ego.

Match your presentation to your audience: Get to know your audience ahead of time and adjust your presentation to meet their needs and expectations.

Understand their understanding: Don't blind your audience with science. An overly technical presentation will turn your audience off very quickly unless it fits the needs of the day. Likewise, being too light on detail, will make you appear lightweight.

Include everyone: Address different perspectives. For example, "This will affect our senior managers like this… And our key customers like that."

Identify common ground: What are the concerns or opportunities you share and how can they best be addressed?

People may fall asleep through a presentation, but not generally through a conversation. Knowing your audience allows you to take on a more conversational tone. But if they are new to you, do some online research before the event. If you know who will be attending, check their LinkedIn profiles and social media feeds.

Check out their business's annual report and follow up on any press mentions. Research them with your colleagues and get an understanding of the issues that are important to them.

Practice your presentation with trusted colleagues for honest feedback. Rehearse on the stage you will be using to get familiar with the environment and the technology. Time your presentation to avoid drift. Prepare flash cards as prompts in case you need them.

It can seem difficult to know how your presentation is going, but as you improve you will be able to monitor the room better.

Look out for obvious cues of interest or boredom: Make your audience active by welcoming questions. Listen closely to the questions to ensure your response is relevant and don't rush your explanations. Don't be afraid to ask the audience how it is going. You may be able to change direction if they are not getting what they need.

Tell them what you're going to tell them, then tell them what you told them: It is essential to keep your audience informed on where you are throughout your presentation. A good structure allows the audience to follow the story and absorb your message. If you decide to use visual aids, such as a PowerPoint, don't litter the presentation with repetitive slides.

Focus on creating a straightforward narrative that is compelling, allows time for interaction and has joined-up thinking: Practise beforehand and ensure the flow is right for you and that the story comes together. Importantly, view it through the consumer's eyes. Use the 'power of three' to make points stick.

If you will be doing more presentations, or possibly repeating this one, have a colleague take notes on the spectator reactions. Ask for feedback from credible participants.

Consider an icebreaker: Humour is a great way to get a room to relax and to focus on you, the presenter. You could practice a relevant anecdote or personal experience that allows you to introduce the main topics.

Don't rush your words, be an active listener and don't skip over important elements of your presentation in your hurry to escape the spotlight.

Hang on for questions: Prompt a few answers and seek out 'friendly fire'.

Most importantly, breathe!

David O'Reilly is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development with an MSc in business from TCD and employment law from UCD. O'Reilly Digney & Associates are leaders in the recruitment of professionals for industry and finance. If you have a career question, please send it to sundaybusiness@independent.ie

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