This post sprang from an earlier question: What’s the secret of a great presenter? My answer: Be prepared.
This follow-up post goes a step further. Here are the six steps to prepare a presentation – not order or structure it (that’s slightly different). This step-by-step system helps pull together the relevant information so the presenter can consider how to construct a conference and relevant presentation.
1. GOAL: What are you trying to accomplish?
Specifically, what do you need to happen? What business result is driving this presentation? At the end of the conversation, what outcome do you want to occur? What do you want the audience to do, explicitly. Tell them. Be clear and concise. At the end of the presentation, if your audience does not understand what you expect of them, they very likely will not do it.
Another way to ensure that you’re thinking of the most objective answer is to ask yourself this question: If one attendee listening to your presentation told someone not at the meeting your purpose, what would they say? Again, be explicit.
For some, the SMART system is useful in writing objectives.
2. CONTEXT: What’s happening around you that will influence what you say (or write)?
What’s the environment, context or history surrounding this presentation or communications? Will any of these factors change or influence whether or not your objective will (or can) be reached? Just as important, what external forces or internal politics might prevent you from achieving this goal? How are you going to address those issues, if at all, in your presentation?
In my experience, this question is often overlooked or dismissed as unnecessary. Yet, it’s one of the fastest ways to destroy your credibility because you will look out of touch or insensitive. For example, I was listening to a presenter – the head of a bank’s ATM network – talk about her 5-10 year strategic plan. The bank’s CEO asked about her thoughts on the environment, particularly is it related to rubbish. Without pause, she replied that it wasn’t part of the plan, which the CEO asked why she wasn’t concerned about the amount of paper rubbish left behind at an ATM when customers didn’t take their ATM receipts. She instantly tried to backtrack, but the damage was done.
At the same time, this step is also the time to consider what opportunities there are to leverage. What trends may give added urgency to your recommendation or hypothesis? Be careful not to position the opportunities over your issues, as opportunities don’t stand in the way of your success, issues do.
3. PEOPLE: Who is your audience?
Rather than think of your audience as one homogenous group of statistics (demographics), think of them as people with similar values, opinions and behaviors (psychographics). Be explicit when describing them. Even better, reach out to them in advance to get a complete perspective on what presentation may be appropriate, asking specifically about their …
4. MINDSET: What does your audience think, believe or behave now? And why?
You cannot convince anyone to change their attitude or behaviour if you don’t know what they think about a specific topic. What’s their opinion of your topic? What happened to create this impression, perception or belief? Whether you like it or not, or believe it or not, people’s perceptions are real. It often has little to do with accuracy. Lots of people ask me what’s the most important aspect of a good presentation. It’s to be relevant. You speak directly to and engage the audience on their terms about the topic you are speaking. To be relevant, you must know what they know, and why they know it. Using this background, now you need to think about what you’re going to say. In other words, your …
5. MESSAGES: What are you going to say to change your audience’s mind?
What is your single message in one sentence? If they forget everything you said – which is possible, even of the best presenters – what’s the one takeaway message that remains in their memory? Make it as actionable as possible. Avoid passive action, such as remember this … or I hope that you … because there’s no urgency to do anything. If you can’t say your message in one sentence and in one breath, it’s too long. Your audience will not remember your key message if it’s passive (no action) and rambling (not short, punchy).
The reason why you are speaking to your audience is likely because what you believe and what they believe are not aligned. You want agreement, which leads to positive action. If they don’t get the alignment you need, you are wasting your and your audience’s time.
The last thing to say about your messages is the Rule of 3. Do you have a message house? If not, read this post: Break Your Presentation Into Chunks.
6. ACTION: What do you want your audience to do, specifically? And by when?
This step is often put at the beginning. It’s not wrong if you do, but I ask this question last only because the answers to the previous questions may influence the answer to Question 6. That said, it’s typically the first message you communicate to your audience. But again, in preparing for your presentation, ask it last.
Once you have legitimate and honest answers to these six questions, you can now start to structure your presentation in slides.
If I can add one additional tip, don’t begin constructing your presentation by opening PowerPoint and starting to write. Get your thoughts organised before you write. It will save you editing time later on.
Any other suggestions, tips or advice on preparing for a presentation?