A great presentation is all in the preparation

Prague Leaders Magazine, January 2006

Very few people enjoy presenting in front of their colleagues and peers. And though it is a skill that most everyone in business must eventually learn, many of us often overlook the preparation that goes into giving an engaging, informative and convincing presentation.

Rather than speak about those elements of presenting that one should avoid, I would like to make an example of a friend of mine, Pierre, who recently gave a very successful presentation to his company’s European management board. Thanks to the meticulous preparation he did ahead of time, he was not only able to give an informative and engaging presentation, but also raise his profile within the company in the process. His success holds several lessons for anyone who finds himself faced with having to make an important presentation.

As the general manager of the newly established Czech subsidiary, Pierre knew that this presentation would be a crucial opportunity to raise his profile in the company and gain the support of his superiors. As a result, he was determined to pull off his presentation without a hitch. Well aware of the exposure he was certain to benefit from at the meeting, he had spent long days carefully preparing his presentation and was eager to show his colleagues and bosses of the positive results his team had already achieved on the Czech and Central European market.

Identifying the goals of a presentation

The first thing Pierre did after agreeing to deliver the presentation was to write down exactly what he planned to achieve by it.

Naturally, his primary aim was to highlight the success his team had had since the Czech subsidiary had been established. Pierre was also eager to let his colleagues know a thing or two about the market he was working in, how exciting it is and where he hoped to take the subsidiary in the future. This information represented the core of Pierre’s speech and he noted it down as one of the short-term goals of the presentation.

Knowing however, that a well delivered, convincing presentation would gain him the good faith of the people he worked for, Pierre was also quick to realize the effect that this opportunity might have on his career, in the future as much as now. This exposure meant that Pierre was doing more than just preparing a presentation; he was securing his future with the company and consider that the long-term goal of the challenge.

Pierre’s final goal in this presentation was personal rather than professional: He simply wanted to feel more confident in front of people and knew that because of his ambitions and energy, this wouldn’t be the last time he would find himself in front of an audience. Even before he knew exactly what he would be presenting, Pierre already had invested a lot of himself into the presentation.

Approaching an Audience

Though he had clearly defined his short- and long-term goals, Pierre was still not ready to sit down at his computer and begin putting the presentation together. He realized that the ultimate success of the presentation depended on his ability to identify both the people he would be presenting to and their expectations. To ensure that his presentation would be well received and his message understood, Pierre needed to know whom he would be addressing and what they would expect to hear.

For example, knowing that he would be speaking to a European audience, Pierre felt it necessary to keep his presentation in line with some general European cultural expectations. His German colleagues would expect some very specific and detailed information. The English members of the audience, on the other hand, would certainly expect a well written and presented speech, where as the French would appreciate a sign of intellectual understanding and a little bit of flair. Catering to the expectations of such a diverse audience wouldn’t be easy, but fortunately, Pierre had a very good idea of who he would be speaking to and was ready to begin crafting his message appropriately.

An Excellent Grasp of the Material

Now that Pierre had identified his goals and had carefully determined the character and expectations of his audience, he was now ready to decide on what exactly would make up the core of his message. To fully persuade his audience of the success that he and his team had worked so hard to achieve, he had to have a very good grasp of the material he would use to support his case. Namely, Pierre needed to focus on those aspects of the business that he knew intimately, presenting only those topics that he was most familiar with while staying away from any areas he didn’t feel certain of. To achieve his goal of gaining the trust of his audience, Pierre could not afford to have his credibility fall into question.

Finally, when choosing and structuring the material he intended to use, Pierre had to pay special attention that the essence of his presentation was above all clear and to-the-point. Because he would be addressing a linguistically diverse audience, Pierre was aware of the danger of being long-winded and overly pedantic and made sure that all the information he intended on using was delivered as concisely as possible.

The value of enthusiasm

After days of preparation and practice, the Pierre was finally ready to catch a plane out to the meeting and deliver his speech.

While thinking about all the various elements that are involved in delivering an engaging and informative presentation, Pierre knew that the way in which he delivered the presentation would be his strongest suite. Aside from having done his homework, and adapting the presentation to suit the needs and expectations of his audience, Pierre knew that his natural enthusiasm for the business would be the one thing that really grabbed the attention of his colleagues and superiors.

As a result of his passion for the subject, Pierre was able to connect with his audience within the first half-minute of the presentation. This enthusiasm, along with his thorough knowledge of the subject, allowed him to create a feeling of trust and understanding with the audience. The time he had invested in analyzing his audience allowed Pierre to develop a rapport with the people he was addressing and speak to them on both an emotional and rational level.

Summing it up

After finishing his presentation, Pierre knew that he had just achieved a resounding success. Not only had he realized the short term goal of highlighting the success he had had at the Czech subsidiary, but he found himself well on his way to achieving his long term goals when the company’s CEO later asked him to attend the annual global conference and give a similar presentation for all the company subsidiaries.

Now, with both the speech and the support of his bosses behind him, Pierre was able to congratulate himself on the positive outcome of the presentation and even began looking forward to the next presentation he would make. And he started on it immediately; making notes of what went well and analyzing the factors that made this presentation the success it was. After all, his excellent preparation is what helped Pierre deliver his successful presentation and raise his profile within the company.