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Follow These Simple Rules to Crush Your Next Presentation

As leaders, you will need to present your thoughts, ideas, project updates to a myriad of people and committees. In fact, I was having coffee with an old friend last week and he complained that these days,he is seated in meeting after meeting, "clearing slide decks". I retorted by saying that, being an ex-Army General, he should be well acquainted with this process.

"Unfortunately", he replies, "it is nowhere near as smooth as it is in the Army. In the Army, there is structure in the process, and everyone knows what this structure is. So when we look at presentations, we know what information we are looking out for and when that information would be presented. In the corporate setting, there is no structure, so different people will have different ideas of what information is important, and what is not, and a simple presentation that should not take more than 10 slides, ends up being 30!"

I am sure some of you can identify with what my friend is experiencing. What is worse is that you end up spending so much time needlessly going through presentation slides to "get the right message" that you are completely sidelined from doing your primary job, which starts to pile up and forces you to work overtime, something you needn't have done in the first place, if everyone simply knew how to create and deliver, a good presentation.

The following comes from my 12 years' experience in the Army, the last three being in the Ministry of Defence, where I had presented policy papers, proposals and information to directors, chiefs, and ministers; as well as the ensuing 20 years as a corporate trainer and public speaker. I can say that I know a thing or two about presentation, and I share these 8 key ideas that you need to adopt to completely crush your next presentation.

1. Know your Audience

Your presentation to the Board of Directors would be totally different to the one to the sales people, even if the subject matter is the same. This is because each set of audience requires different things, is responsible for different things, and is made up of different people. So when dealing with different stakeholders, you will need to tailor your message differently. So while the key ideas for the Board of Directors is market penetration and compliance, the key ideas for salespeople are targets and incentives. Mixing the messages is a fatal flaw in presentations, and one that will lead to pure confusion. You might not get Board approval not because your idea was bad, but because the presentation sucked! You didn't meet their needs, addressed their concerns, and gave them confidence. So you need to know exactly who you are presenting to (right down to each individual in the audience, if possible), understand their points of view, what they want out of the meeting, and give them what they need to get the right response. This is really your first step in crushing your next presentation!

2. Create your own structure

As mentioned earlier, when there is structure, people know what to expect, where to look out for information, and when to ask appropriate questions. The presentation will flow more smoothly and members can engage in better and more concrete discussions. In presentations that don't seem to have any structure, it falls on you, the presenter, to create that structure. And when you have done that, to not only apprise all members of it, but you must also manage it. You cannot allow any member of the audience to usurp presentation leadership and disrupt the flow. Hence, before you dive into your presentation, establish the structure, the rules of engagement, and then get agreement from the audience, identifying any specific focus that they may need, and point them to where in the presentation that will be addressed. This will allow you to manage the whole flow much better.

3. Start with Why

This is Simon Sinek's famous book title where he gave us the secret to a good presentation - the Golden Circle.

As you can see, the why is the inner-most circle, and you start from there, working your way out. Hence, start your presentation proper by laying down why your audience is there, before you dive into how things will be done, and what specifically each person will need to do to contribute. If one doesn't know the reason - the intent - for being in your presentation, that person will be sitting there and listening to a whole bunch of words but not being able to frame them properly. This is a recipe for presentation failure. The why - the intent - of your presentation helps members of the audience understand what you are looking to achieve out of the presentation, and also allows them to see the impact of the information from their position, from their point of view. They can then pin the information in their own logical frame, and from there, make sense of your presentation. So always Start With Why.