I’ve been working with a set of really skilled and experienced presenters for the past few months. The executives had a set of massively important strategy presentations to give to their Global CEO and his executive team. Their Company realises that even the most experienced and skilful sometimes need a little support in really challenging circumstances, and these were those. My role was to help them make the most of their experience and make maximum impact when presenting to their boss’s, boss’s, boss’s, boss’s boss. Most of the presenters were keen to get some advice and help in an ‘I’m out of my comfort zone so let’s see if there’s anything I’ve missed’ kind of way. Which is a sign of real confidence usually. Having completed the project in New York last week, here are my reflections on what they did need a little help in –
- Story structure reapplied – They were all pretty familiar with the basics of a good presentation, or story, structure, but most found it really useful to be reminded of the need for each of the three acts plus a powerful prologue and epilogue to really deliver a story following rules learned over 50,00 years of human speech, and to satisfy the audience’s needs for a logical and interesting presentation.
- Engaging key stakeholders in the story – Getting the story straight is an important element to a great pitch, testing that story with key people is essential if you want to go into your meeting with real confidence. Showing the story to stakeholders in advance is like a bit of market testing, it gives you feedback, new thoughts and a bit of a challenge to help you strengthen your arguments. In this case, each group got some really useful (and sometimes challenging) advice from key sponsors which allowed them to be more relevant and persuasive when they stood up to speak. It takes confidence to do though, and this habit is something that inexperienced presenters seldom do.
- Ruthless removal of clutter – Removing text, data, images, repetition, irrelevance, words; all kinds of presentation ‘clutter’ is the habit of the super experienced presenter, but it’s a habit that even they need help to do, because it requires discipline and detachment, and very few of us have both of those things when considering our own work. This de-cluttering is best done after all of the scripting and visuals are complete, and it’s a matter of going through every line and slide and asking yourself, how each particular piece helps you to tell your story with impact. If it doesn’t help and isn’t absolutely necessary to drive the narrative forward, then it should be ditched. Ditched because if it doesn’t help then it hinders, slows, hides, frustrates and distracts your audience from the most important points you want to make.
To restate: these were really experienced and capable performers in a very successful global business. They didn’t need much help but these 3 areas made a small but significant difference to their impact in the most important presentation of their careers to date. Once this work was done we had them rehearse with feedback from their peers and prepare meticulously for questions and off we went to TV lights, cameras, a studio audience and the CEO.
Good luck with your own next speech, and here’s a link to download our amazingly beautiful (and completely free) collection of other hints and tips to help even the best speakers make the most of this game of ‘snakes and ladders ‘ we all play.