21 October 2006

Getting the presentation right

At some point Business Development requires a formal presentation. It could be to an individual, a small group or a large audience. The issue here is context - formal presentations aren't the kind of situation where you can just bound up to the white board and start doodling. A formal presentation requires planning. It requires involvement - very few people in the world can deliver a good presentation cold if it has been prepared by someone else.

Let's give a nod towards Andy Bounds again because he is so good at the content and ordering of material which is particularly geared to making sure the objectives for the presenter and audience provide the context for what is actually in the presentation.

Beyond the content, the ordering and the material itself (is the exploding dinosaur really such a good idea?) there is the style you use for the presentation. Whatever you feel inside (and some people become very nervous before presenting), it's important that you look relaxed and in control so I'm a great believer in getting rid of the prepared speech and the formal script to accompany the slides. I don't want to provide a presentation where all the content is on the slides - the slides make sense and can be read by anyone, but the real purpose of a slide is to trigger my memory - provide me with the prompts about what it is I want to say, and very often what I want to say is why I think this bullet should be on the slide, providing an unstated "because" and answering the unspoken question "why?" from the bulk of the audience. That tells the audience that you know a lot more than appears on the slides and makes it a more interesting and involving presentation.

So, if you are going to get rid of the speech or the script and just use the bullets to prompt your own recall, how are you going to manage? Here it is a matter of what you think you need - some people will want to run through the material a few times in order to check that they have the timings and content roughly right. Whether or not you feel the need to do that, it is important to do some higher level preparation. It is worth printing off a black and white copy of the slide set and laying it out on a desktop and looking critically at it to decide how much meta navigation you need to apply to help the audience digest the message. What I mean by meta navigation are those points where you navigate forward (I'll be talking about that a little later) or linking back (you'll remember that I said) which can be enormously important in involving and engaging your listeners.

So how do you use the slide set to remind you to provide the meta navigation without putting in a lot of clumsy stuff on the slide? One way is simply to provide a visual marker on the slide which is obvious only to you. It doesn't matter what it is - a coloured full-stop or underlining of a keyword, the content will trigger your memory about the content of what you want to say and the visual marker will remind you to put in the meta navigation. Simple, eh?

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