The most critical job of a manager, when you boil it all down, is communication. To be successful, a manager has to be effective in communicating one-on-one, in writing and in groups. While weakness in any of these three disciplines will compromise the ability to lead, the weakness most often seen in managers is in group communication. And it's the most conspicuous.
Group communication can be one of a manager's most powerful assets. When presenting to a group, he or she has its full attention – at least at the start. The trick is to keep it.
Rather than dreading or being reticent about it, managers should seek out opportunities to present to anyone in the company. The best way to develop any skill is through repetition. This particular skill also helps to increase personal and professional exposure.
Unfortunately, corporate presentations and sales presentations are usually either:
1. Mildly competent, or
2. Career killers
The advent of new media and technology that facilitate communication and improve our ability to convey our ideas also can have the opposite effect. If a manager has a propensity to dig a hole for him or herself in a presentation, PowerPoint can be an earthmover on steroids that will bury the presenter totally.
On the other hand, managers who are adept at presenting and public speaking can communicate even more effectively and convincingly with these tools.
A Near Death by PowerPoint Experience:
We've all endured them … PowerPoint presentations that drone on forever. I call this “Death by PowerPoint”.
One of my near-death by PowerPoint experiences occurred in the northwest corner of Newfoundland, Canada. A company that I used to work for had a small factory there. I had flown there with the company president, a few fellow officers and Bill Drellow, the freelance writer who I tapped to edit my most recent book, “The Lost Art of General Management”.
After touring the plant with the staff and making the general niceties with the production folks, we settled in the conference room for the homestretch … the PowerPoint presentation.
The projector warmed up, the presenter clicked on his computer, and I saw something that almost killed me on the spot – the little box in the lower left corner of the frame that read, “Slide 1 of 101”. That's right, 101 slides!
I didn't have the heart to pull the plug on their presentation and ask them to get to the point in 20 slides or less. The team had worked very hard to improve that factory, and they deserved the chance to relate the pride of their accomplishments on their own terms. So there I sat, contemplating forms of suicide (remember Airplane, the Movie?) to end the pain of nonstop listening.
The moral of this story is that all we walked away from this presentation with was the impression that they worked hard and that they presented 101 slides! Beyond that, I couldn't have recalled three things they had tried to communicate to us 15 minutes later.
The Ten Elements of a Great Presentation
1. Before you do anything else, identify a maximum of three key points you want the audience to remember.
2. Determine why your audience should remember these points, so you can communicate that, too.
3. Open your presentation with the “why” in such a way that it takes no more than one minute to explain. If you can't explain to the audience why your presentation is important to them within one minute, you've lost them.
4. Never forget that the audience cares less about what you have to say than you do.
5. Remember what you learned in fourth grade: Speak at an appropriate rate. Not too slow or too fast. And project your voice.
6. Communicate broadly through body language as well as spoken language.
7. Don't use the podium unless you're stuck reading a speech and it's the only source of light. It's easy to create the impression you're holding on to it for dear life. Speakers who walk around a podium instead of rigidly standing behind it show more confidence, differentiate themselves from other presenters, and are more interesting to watch. Walking, talking and gesturing at the same time also is a great way to hide the yips because all the adrenaline doesn't go to the throat.
8. Be so well-rehearsed that it doesn't sound rehearsed. There's no substitute for preparation.
9. Review your presentation with a trusted colleague or two to ensure it says what you think it says and is easily understood.
10. When using slides –
§ Organize your presentation so the titles of the slides alone tell the story. Any other text should simply support the title.
§ Don't overuse distracting gimmicks like animation.
§ Never read the slides word for word. Their only purpose is to reinforce what the audience is learning.
§ Never spend more than two minutes on a slide.
§ Finally, and most importantly, prepare your presentation so that you don't actually need any slides. If you can be effective without slides, you're a great presenter. If you can do that, you can use slides to enhance your presentation, rather than leaning on them like a crutch.
My editor goes even further than I do when it comes to relying on slides. An experienced speechwriter, he feels that slides should only be used when they contain the faces of alleged perps and the audience is morning roll call in the squad room!
The Three Types of Presentations
There are three basic types of internal presentations that managers should be adept at delivering. There are numerous hybrids, but the three basic internal presentations are:
1. The Vision, Mission, Goal Presentation
2. The Results Presentation
3. The Change-Initiative Presentation
The general theme that can always be used and tailored to suit any of these types of presentations follows this pattern: “Who we are, where we are going and how we are going to get there.”
There also are three general types of external presentations:
1. Customer Presentations
2. Supplier Presentations
3. Investor/Banker Presentations
The purpose of external presentations usually is to influence the outcome of a negotiation. Thematic elements include “What's in it for you” and “How we can do this together.”
Again, presentations should always start with “Why this is important to you (the audience)”.
I can't emphasize enough that if you want to succeed as a leader, you must master the art of group presentation. If you just aren't comfortable with it, there is only one way to cure your discomfort… do as many presentations as possible! Comfort and an air of controlled self-confidence will only come from experience. The more you avoid developing your presentation skills, the heavier this anchor will become on your career.
Take a course, join Toastmasters, or buy a video/CD on the subject. Start with easy small group presentations and continue to work your way up until you are comfortable regardless of how many people are in the room.
I have made it a requirement that each of my direct reports take a course in public speaking. The ones who jumped to the task without delay have shown amazing progress… not just in their speaking skills, but in their leadership. Why? Because the skills I have outlined become part of their general way of thinking, talking one-on-one and writing. Soon, they all become significantly stronger communicators who incorporate “why this is important to you” into their communications.
Free PowerPoint First Aid Kit
This First Aid kit is a voiced over PowerPoint presentation that walks a presenter through the creation of their presentation and offers a templated structure for creating the presentation. To receive your free PowerPoint First Aid Kit, just send an email to [email protected] and list “PowerPoint First Aid Kit” in the title of the email. Your email address will only be used to email you the First Aid Kit and will then be deleted from our system. Your email address will not be used for any other purpose whatsoever.