Ask any pilot and he or she will tell you that the most critical parts of flying are the flight plan preparation and the actual flight, consisting of three key elements: the take-off, flight path navigation and landing.
Delivering an effective presentation consists of two similar critical steps: the preparation and actual delivery. And the three elements of the delivery are: the opening, the content navigation and the close.
This article was first published in Canadian HR Reporter.
The challenge for presenters is thus three-fold:
- to get clarity about the purpose and intended outcome of their presentation
- to prepare the argument structure to include the right mix of rich content, analogies and stories that support the purpose of the presentation and
- to deliver the presentation in an engaging and compelling manner.
Mark Twain, American author and humorist said, “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” Nowadays, despite the fact that information is immediately available online, an effective presenter will spend at least 10-15 hours preparing a one hour presentation.
Deciding on an argument structure up-front is similar to the flight plan preparation. It takes time but helps to keep the presentation tight and aligned with the theme. For example, a presenter can plan the flow or flight path as a combination of a:
- Past, present, future scenario or a
- Symptom, problem solution scenario.
Taking the time to conduct research on audience expectations, including a few phone calls to a sample of attendees, will help to keep the presentation focused and relevant.
During an interview on CBC’s As it Happens on May 4, 2012, John Irving, the prolific American novelist and screenwriter said that he always determines the conclusion of a book before he begins. He then writes towards that conclusion.
Is the purpose to inform, influence or inspire? And if the purpose is to inform for example, what are the 3-4 specific outcomes that the audience should know about and or act upon?
Once the purpose and a clear call to action are determined such as a request for funding or to make a recommendation, the next step, working backwards, is to tease out the benefits such as recognition, improved productivity, enhanced efficiencies and so on.
A powerful component of the close is to map out an effective call-back, a link back to a key fact, question, phrase, tagline, statistic or character in a story, which will be introduced during the opening. An effective call-back at the close reinforces and supports the point of the message.
As with successful authors, preparing the landing or conclusion first and speaking towards a clear outcome has significant benefits:
- It brings clarity to the speaker about the purpose of the presentation
- It helps to shape the opening
- It radically reduces preparation time
The take-off or first 30 seconds of the opening is critical to gaining and maintaining an audience’s attention. A well-planned provocative statement, rhetorical question, statistic, quote or short story are effective ways of drawing the audience into the theme of the presentation.
For example, a presenter talking about innovation within HR could begin her presentation by quoting experts in the field: “Professors Ibarra and Hansen from Insead and the University of California tell us that, ‘Left to their own devices, people will choose to collaborate with others they know well, which can be deadly for innovation’.”
Any of the opening elements mentioned above, including a quote like this, needs to gain attention and be relevant to the subject. It sets the tone for what is about to unfold.
The opening is the most appropriate place for positioning the challenge: “Do you know that 39% of our employees are Net Geners? What does that mean for our business? ” Or the cost of opportunity, “Our product set will be irrelevant in the next nine months unless we shift to digital delivery.”
A foreshadow, a key element such as a fact, question, phrase, tagline, statistic or character in a story, should be introduced in the first few minutes of a presentation. The purpose of the foreshadow is to hook the listener’s attention and to point the audience forward in expectation for it to be resolved or concluded.
Having prepared the close first and then the opening, the body of the presentation is prepared next. If the presenter is using slides, the text should preferably be single words or brief phrases. The visuals should consist of high quality impactful graphics purchased from a stock agency such as iStockPhoto.com or ThemeForest.net.
The body or flight path needs to be tight and follow the argument structure. A guide for actual presentation time in front of an audience, starting with the close is 20-25%. The opening is 15-20% and the body is 60-65%.
Plan for engagement
According to John Medina, a molecular biologist at Seattle Pacific University, the attention of the audience will begin to plummet every ten minutes. “When I started placing hooks in my lectures,” says Medina, “I immediately noticed changes in the audience members’ attitudes.” The “hooks” are emotional stimuli, relevant stories and anecdotes that illustrate key points and serve to keep the audience engaged.
“There comes a moment in everyone’s life when you find yourself getting to your feet with a strange feeling in your stomach and a light-headed sensation,” writes Stuart Crainer, author of The Financial Times Handbook of Management. “The joys of public speaking may escape you at this point.”
The most effective way of managing fear beforehand is to go out and fly – to practice the presentation a few times in front of a “rented” audience and then to make adjustments based on feedback. Following the advice of professors Ibarra and Hansen, the presenter should seek out a group of people who are not well known to the presenter. The group should be primed to make innovative suggestions and give feedback on specific points, such as flow and structure, clarity, impact, passion and rapport and use of visuals and so on.
Arriving early, “owning” the room beforehand and socializing with the audience at coffee breaks makes a big difference to the confidence of the presenter and helps to increase levels of rapport and engagement of the audience.
No amount of coaching on body language such as restricting or enhancing hand movements or encouraging voice projection are really effective until the presenter gets passionate about or begins to own the topic. The alignment of body language and message is a natural outflow of internal congruency and connection with the topic and not the other way around. In the words of Eckhart Tolle, “Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free.”
And because most presenters are the first to admit that they are “a work in progress,” the call to be authentic is the best way to show up on stage. In the words of Arlene Dickinson, co-star of CBC TV’s Dragon’s Den, “When people feel they’re dealing with a real person, who isn’t hiding behind excuses or a mask . . . they know they’re dealing with someone they can trust.”
Giving an effective presentation needs detailed preparation. And like most pilots, the fun part is flying, taking the audience on a journey of discovery, to a new destination.
Dene Rossouw is co-founder of AuthenticDialogue.com and TheIdeasEngine.com in Vancouver, specializing in influencing and innovative solutions. He helps his clients have the necessary conversations of leadership and helps organizations innovate by leveraging the power of employee ideas. He can be reached at 1.778.386.5167.