Business school claims to be similar to the real world, pushing us to sharpen our presentation skills. As cocky as it sounds, I’ve always been a good presenter. I did theater for twelve years, and I’m not the least bit nervous in front of a group. That being said, I was all nerves and energy yesterday at my end of summer internship presentation.
In the room were 6 executives, all listening to the recommendations I’d spent researching all summer. I had 20 minutes (or so I thought) to present. I launched right in, and calmly and articulately presented my 11 initiatives in exactly 20 minutes. At the end, I took questions. There were a few logistical questions, but overall, the feedback was good.
When my boss emailed me later that day, her feedback was good but with a few adjustments (because I have to present again to our India office). She told me to go slower, leave room for questions and conversation DURING the presentation. When you are trying to get people engaged with your projects (looking for approval), you want them to feel like they can engage as you talk about it. Unlike school presentations, where you are under time constraints, or presentations such as venture capital pitches, a business presentation is all about buy-in.
I noticed a similar trend when I observed the other MBA interns presentations last week. They were constantly interrupted, executives taking notes, asking people to follow-up, getting clarification from other managers, etc. Three presentations “won” the opportunity to present to the CPO, and the ones that won were arguably the most engaged presentations. There was an interaction factor with the audience as well as the space in the presentation to field these questions.
When presenting an idea in school, we sometimes forget that in the real world, our ideas should spark enthusiasm, concern (if the news isn’t good) or any other range of emotions other then boredom and disinterest. In school, there is a disconnect because the audience often isn’t “real.” They are not invested in the outcome the way people are when they are actually at a job they care about. In retrospect, my presentation was still pretty good, but it lacked a personalization to my audience that I hope to bring out on Wednesday.
In an effort to share what I’ve learned, here are a few tips for presenters:
- Never assume someone has done their homework. If there was a pre-read assigned, or some other knowledge assumption, just start off the presentation by asking who has read the material. It will help you to contextualize your presentation as you go if you know who is up to speed.
- Keep your slides in ppt simple and create animations that allow the eye to follow your presentation. It’s not a bad thing to have a lot of words on one slide, as long as it is organized and you can guide your audience to focus on what you are talking about. A simple rectangle with transitions can focus the eye in a clean way. You don’t have to be a ppt expert!
- Tell a story. You need to have a beginning, middle and end. You need to have characters and the highs & lows. Think about this as you build your presentation and make sure the conversation you have with your audience feels like story time.
- It can’t possibly be all bad. When presenting situational analysis, it is important to build off of both the positive and negative. Especially in corporate presentations, people don’t want to be told everything their doing is a “failing,” so you need to be especially aware of the politics involved.
- You are selling your recommendations. Be upbeat, excited, and enthusiastic. If you don’t think these are interesting ideas, your audience sure won’t.
- At the end of a presentation, everyone wonders, “what now?” Make sure to include clear next steps with possible owners. If you don’t want people to assume that you’ll be taking all of this on, then include who (or what department) you intend to collaborate with.
- Don’t read your slides. If you want to just recite your slides, then you might as well not present, just send them to people. A presentation is to creatively engage your audience. You can read some of the slide information, but they should be crafted as jumping off points. Make sure you add context that your slides cannot provide.
Good luck and enjoy! Presentations, while anxiety creating, are also one of the most rewarding things you can do in your career. The instant gratification of seeing people’s reactions is much better then sending a report that could lead to false reactions.