Rule #1 Know what you want to achieve

The surest sign your presentation is off to a bad start: You open up PowerPoint and start typing. Rookie mistake. Here’s why: Audiences don’t care if you don’t make it relevant to them, no matter how you dress it up.

A good presentation is a dialogue, not a monologue*. It’s a journey. A conversation between people. For that to happen, the audience has to be interested and involved in some way. That’s not going to happen if you make the presentation about you (a monologue), not about them (a dialogue). So, Baron von Ruthless,* if you have monologuing tendencies, Rule #1 is for you.

Rule #1.  Know what you want to achieve.

A good presentation starts with two simple questions.

What do I want to get across? What do they (the audience) want?

If you can answer those you have a *chance* of pulling off a good presentation. When you are writing a presentation for yourself – the unfortunate truth is most people don’t start there. They start typing, or cutting and pasting slides from previous decks. Because we never want to give it enough time. Spending 5 minutes thinking about what you want to achieve, what the intention of your presentation is, will save you hours in writing and editing later.

If you are collaborating on a presentation (perhaps you are the deck b*tch for your boss), this will save you from the endless back and forth, stop me when you see something you like, because it forces the decision making process – about what point you actually want to make – up front.

Figuring out what you want to achieve, and then using it as both a guide, and a filter, is simple.  First, get any old scrap piece of paper.  A napkin will do.  Draw a line down the middle, dividing the paper into two columns.  On the left, write down the outcomes I want.  On the right, write down what does the audience need?

Rule #1: know what you want to achieve.

Engineering Group product manager – year end presentation to Senior Leadership Team

In the example above, an engineering group leader is in charge of product roll-out. He is young, and believes he has runway within the company. Despite some misses in product delivery, he believes he has had a good year, and some great product releases in the pipeline for the company. There is tremendous buzz about it. Going with his first instinct, to tell everyone  (in detail) about the new product, won’t fit all the competing agendas. This presentation is not the time for that. The CEO and the senior leadership team want to know that he is on top of his business, has learned from the misses, has a plan in place to adjust, the relevance of the new product to market, and then they want to get under the hood.  This framework completely changes how he will prepare and handle his presentation.

Think hard.  Ruthlessly prioritize.  You’ve just been promoted.  You have the first Ops review.  Your Region President and the CEO will be there.   What do you really want?  If you’re honest, not make any career ending mistakes might be on your wish list.  But probably not at the top.  You might want to show up well.  Have them believe they made a good choice in promoting you.  Let them know that you where you plan to go with your piece of the business.  Whatever it is, be honest with yourself.  Prioritize.  Rank in order of importance to you.

Now move to the right hand column.  Here you will put down what the Audience needs.  The best way to get that information is to ask the audience directly, in advance.  If it’s your first ops review, ask your boss for some advice.  “What do you want to come out of this knowing?”  “Are there any particular aspects you want me to cover in depth?”  You will usually get a candid answer.  After all, that person probably has a vested interest in you succeeding.

If you can’t get to them ask someone else.  A peer or a colleague.  Find a good stand-in.  Lastly, (and this is a place of last resort) Guess.  Thinking about it will do you some good.  In the Ops review, they will probably want to know that you have a solid handle on the business.  Want to understand how you are doing against plan, and in any areas that fall short, how you are going to make up the gap.

That’s it.  You’re done with step one.  You know what you want to achieve.  Don’t throw that scrap piece of paper away.  This is your north star.  As you dive into the work of pulling your presentation together, refer back to it.  It will help as you create and prune your work.

*Monologuing as a bad Practice. As told by Mr Incredible and Frozone

Bob Parr, AKA Mister Incredible. Hater of Monologues

[Bob (Mr Incredible) and Lucius (Frozone) are sitting in a parked car, reminiscing]

Lucius: So now I’m in deep trouble. I mean, one more jolt of this death ray and I’m an epitaph. Somehow I manage to find cover and what does Baron von Ruthless do?
Bob: [laughing] He starts monologuing.
Lucius: He starts monologuing! He starts like, this prepared speech about how *feeble* I am compared to him, how *inevitable* my defeat is, how *the world* *will soon* *be his*, yadda yadda yadda.
Bob: Yammering.
Lucius: Yammering! I mean, the guy has me on a platter and he won’t shut up!

via IMDB.

Gavin_Animated-GifGavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.

More at Google+Facebook and Pinterest. Comments are welcome, links are appreciated. If you’re interested in writing guest posts for this blog, please contact me.


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  10. Veronica Antonova | November 14, 2014 at 11:19 pm

    Great tips. I’ve been in product reviews where an entire session consisted of questions from the execs and there was not even time for a prepared pitch. There goes your entire presentation speech.
    Q&A is the hardest part to handle. It requires a lot of honesty and real thinking behind your work. Best way to prepare is to run through questions YOU would want to ask if you were in their seat — likely around progress, plan, success metrics, and contingency plans when the named plan collapses or priorities shift, as they often will.

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