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Presenting For Impact

Presenting For Impact

We’ve all sat in meeting rooms where we’ve been subjected to death by PPT. For every leader, the ability to present information in a compelling, interesting way is your basic table stakes: it should be a vital element of your core leadership competencies.

The good news is, it’s never been easier to put together a great presentation to get your point across. These days, there’s no excuse for a poor presentation, so I want to share some basic tips, to help you reduce your likelihood of having an epic presentation fail.

One of the biggest problems is the misuse of presentation tools. Apps like Microsoft’s PPT, Apple’s Keynote, and Google Slides are designed for high quality images, animations and web links.

But many leaders try to cram as much information as possible onto each slide… there’s often an inappropriate level of detail, much of which is unintelligible. They’re too dense with points, and while the audience is trying to read these points, they’re not listening to what you’re saying. The slides become the focal point, rather than a visual aid.

The most common mistakes I see are:

  • Taking too long to get to the point (as I lose the will to live)
  • Lack of a clear structure
  • Talking to the wrong audience
  • Explaining the bleeding obvious (e.g. the graph shows growth)
  • Explaining irrelevant detail (which dilutes clarity)
  • Not having a clear point – just using it as an information dump
  • Not delivering any insight

The point of any presentation is to communicate, to inform, to enlighten, and to influence. It should also be entertaining, because if you can’t capture the audience’s attention, it doesn’t matter how good your content is, they won’t hear any of it.

In general terms, you need to check a few boxes, no matter what:

  1. Tell a story. If the only thing your audience sees is the heading on each slide, that should be enough. If I were to just flick through the slides and read nothing else, other than the headings, one after the other, it should tell a simple story.
  2. Less words, more images. A picture paints 1,000 words, so try to employ as many high quality images and graphics as you can… this is much more effective than simply filling slides with bullet points
  3. Less “what”, more “why”… Many presentations are peppered with redundant comments, like explaining the bleeding obvious on a graph (e.g. “Sales grew each month in the quarter”, or “April and September were our biggest months”) No shit, sherlock!… any comments should add insight, e.g. “April and September sales increased as a result of our discounting offers”… you need to provide insight
  4. Present the data to give the best view of meaning. e.g. if you’re in a seasonal business don’t show “actual v budget”, or “previous month v current month”. Be a bit more creative and use PCP. How does June 2023 v June 2022, or Q3 2023 v Q3 2022
  5. Always have a “so what?”. Draw your conclusions from the data, and don’t be shy! e.g. in a financial results presentation, if you’re trying to explain monthly variability, always seek to answer the audience’s biggest question: why? How much are the results impacted by salesperson performance? Do they link to your lead indicators? Is the business being impacted by local conditions? How much of your revenue increases came from promotional offers? 

Taking on these few simple tips will enable you to present for impact, if you put the thought and effort in… like a lot of areas in life, preparation is everything!

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