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Notes on Effective Presentations

Intended Audience / Why am I writing this?

I seem to have had this conversation a few times recently, and people seem to have found it useful. The intended audience is just the people for whom I share this link, or who happen to stumble upon it.

What's the goal?

Just to share my own take, such that it is, should anyone find the points useful. Also to receive any useful insights from others who care to offer feedback / comment.

On with the post...

Having done more pitches and presentations in the last 12 months than my previous 12 years, what follows is my personal take and preferences on what makes an effective presentation - or more specifically, interviewing and pitching.

In either case (interviewing for a position or pitching a solution to prospective clients), the end goal is to instil confidence that you recognise and understand your audience's key opportunities, needs and concerns.

There's a tendency I've noticed for people to take a fire-hose approach: say loads of things, show lots of examples, or speak at length on things which may very well be inconsequential to the audience. If the goal is to build confidence in the listeners, then it's key to demonstrate proper care and deference to the value of their time. Don't "run down the clock" in talking about things they're not interested in, or to carry on talking for 5 minutes when they got their answer in the first 20 seconds.

If you're presenting, plan your presentation to take no more than 50% of the time allotted. People shouldn't feel talked to - they want to react and respond to what you say. Listen closely to their questions, and address them as directly as you can. If they have 10 concerns/issues, you want to make sure you're still in the room when all those questions are asked, giving you the time to address them.

Presentations (less so than interviews) should roughly:

  1. summarise/play back the key ask demonstrate that you've heard and understood their problem or need, and set the context for the rest of the conversation.

  2. present your take on their problem "When considering X, that typically has an impact on Y. Do you feel that applies in this case?" or "In undertaking this, I've found it important to consider ..."

  3. Give your recommendation as directly as possible. Everyone can add more complexity by asking more questions or speaking in generalities/being vague. Call out risks and uncertainties as you understand them, but then show a decisive way forward which addresses/mitigates those risks, or fixes some of the open questions in order to tackle areas of higher value or uncertainty (e.g. "let's just assume ...")

Also, do as much due diligence/research ahead of time, and practice active listening during the presentation. It's easy to create a presentation about what you want to say, rather than what your audience needs or wants to hear. You want to cover all the key areas in a breadth-first way, but be able to go into the detail when asked for more depth in a particular area.

Also - keep your integrity and be honest. It's important to show your understanding of your own limitations. If you have 70% mastery of a topic, you should be able to accurately answer 7/10 questions on that topic. Your "meta-contextual" awareness goes a long way in instilling confidence and trust that you know both your limits and your strengths.

One last tip too -- try to phrase as many of your responses as questions, while still providing information/making progress. It's a tough ask, but it allows a way forward for the audience if they still have uncertainties. You don't want them to feel shut-down. For example:

"in situations such as yours, I find that using X technology with Y approach and Z team deliver effective results. Do you feel that would apply in this case?"

That way you've either gained further information OR got your listener/audience to agree a common approach. It should be win/win.

Wrapping Up

Remember the key goal in presenting is often to instil confidence in the outcomes you want for your audience (to take your recommendation, buy your service, hire you, etc).

To do that, you need to be super-attentive to what the key stakeholders are asking, ensure they feel understood and listened to, and answer succinctly their questions.

You do that by showing a good grasp of the ask up-front in 3 steps, but then leave enough time to respond to your audience. You want to demonstrate you respect their time and concerns, rather than pre-suppose what they actually care about.

The end result is that everyone feels like they've reached the right outcome by collaborating and working together, rather than being sold something or convinced of something.

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