Top five ways to improve your next business presentation

Monday, 15 February 2010

“Presentations are the business of business.” Put that on your business cards, and everyone will see that you mean business. Or possibly buzzness, since buzzwords and buzzphrases should be at the top of your list of things to try to change your presentation from a time killer to a killer time. (buzzwords are important at every stage of your career.)

Anyway, ever do a presentation and feel the energy sapping from your colleagues and your strategic momentum just dry up? Of course you haven’t, because those phrases make no sense, but if you can learn how to turn the power of buzz to your advantage then soon your presentations will be helping you to “get” that “go” you need to be go getting with the best getters of go. Synergistically.

Making sense yet? Let’s check to see if your presentations currently have what it takes with a few questions:

During your presentations, are your colleagues currently characterised by their sleep ‘n’ lethargy? Soon they’ll characterised by their leapin’ energy.

Does your lack of content make you look facile and moronic? Streamline those same few facts into a concept-driven seminar which makes your selection of the essential gist look freestyle focu-centric.

Is your data so foreboding that you don’t know where to start? Chuck almost all of it away, and make a colour-coded flowchart.

Have I hyped this sufficiently? Then let’s kick off;

5. Use a pie chart

There are 360 degrees of reasons to use one of these Circles of Knowledge; too many to explain with mere prose, unfortunately. Explanation of the many reasons to use a pie chart cannot be done without (ironic) recourse to a pie chart. (Click to enlarge)

4. Power Suits

content is one thing, how you deliver it is another. You’ll agree that we’ve got content covered with pie charts (pie covers a multitude of sins) so now, how to deliver it with poise, energy, and massive shoulders?

That’s right, reach back into the 80s and kit yourself out with the finest in shoulder- elevating, waist-constricting tailoring that tapers from neck to toe like an elegant, pinstriped carrot of confidence.

3. Concept driven content

So it’s the night before the presentation, you’ve got your diagrams, you’re ironing your power suit, you think you might run through your talk and oh my god! You forgot to think of anything to say!

Calm down, or you’ll crease that exquisite suit. Having nothing to say is not a problem; in fact, it is exactly what you want.

Just think about your presentation from your colleagues’ perspective; they don’t want to be burdened with facts and words and blah blah blah and such; they want to leave that room feeling enervated, as if a contribution has been made, as if they have had their mind expanded. You can’t do that with facts.

If your presentation is a gold mine, then facts are the beams and concepts are the explosives, and you’ll admit that you can’t open a rich new seam with a beam. That’s just ridiculous. You’ll need some high grade conceptsplosives to blow that seam wide open. Hell yeah!

(You might equally argue that you can’t hold up the roof of a mine using explosives, but hey! let’s not over-consider the metaphor. Remember, if you have to think twice, it’s not worth thinking at all.) Alternatively, just blow the roof off for an open-cast mine of glinting concept.

Stick to concepts so that if anyone asks any difficult fact-based questions (So what were your sales figures? Did you produce any results whatsoever? Why do our accounts have an unaudited £100,000 hole in them?), just advise them to stop getting so bogged down in details, refer back to the grand concept and explain it again, as if they didn’t understand it the first time. They might persevere, but keep giving the same answer and they’ll give up eventually.

2. Audience interactivity

“What do you think?”

Ask this question to a colleague, suddenly, a few minutes into your presentation, and watch as all of the sphincter-meltingly intense concentration of everyone in the room re-focuses into the face of the hapless recipient of your so-simple sounding query. Oops, turns out they weren’t paying attention.

“Uhn, um, er,” they’ll gibber, as you patiently wait with absolutely no facial clues to what they should say as they literally shrivel up and die of embarrassment. Once they’ve managed a faltering sentence or two that vaguely suggests agreement with whatever you were just saying, thank them earnestly and continue as if nothing happened.

Now everyone is paying attention with the same level of adrenaline-pumped perfect memory for your next words as if you’d just shot their colleague in the chest. They don’t want to be the next fool to make a twonk of themselves by being caught daydreaming, and they'll remember what you said.

Be warned; don’t try this either on interns or on that chap from accounts who’s making notes. They are taking in every word you say, in the former case in the same way that a new sheet of fly paper catches every fly and in the latter case in the same way as a spider catches all the juiciest flies to quote back to you later at the meeting when you have to justify spending hundreds of pounds on “power suit expenses.”

1. Provide drinks and biscuits

“Oh, we have catering staff for that, it’s out of my control” you might say. “The biscuits are always terrible, but there’s nothing we can do,” you would chortle knowingly, before clapping me on the shoulder and getting your fucking arm broken for touching me as if I’m your friend or care about your patronising dismissal of my advice.

I know that the normal biscuits have a taste that makes your face do that twitchy-inward-sucky thing without you even meaning it to, and the coffee tastes like it’s been filtered through a cat rather than cafetiere, but I’m telling you to do something about it yourself.

For a little extra expense, your colleagues’ stupid little faces will light up with delight. “Ooh, nice biscuits!” they’ll cry joyfully. “They’re for us, right?” they’ll add worriedly, before falling on them like chocolate-deprived wolves at your slightest nod of assent.

With nice biscuits, it doesn’t even matter what you say. When they think of your presentation, they will remember bliss and happiness.
Promotion and a handy dismissal of those rather curious account gaps in your department will be yours before you can say, “yes, they were from Mark’s and Spencer’s. I agree, they do taste better than the normal ones, sir. Ha ha, good one sir, of course I’ll join you for golf this weekend.”

When they said no one ever made it to the top without getting their hands dirty, this is what they meant; crumbs under the fingernails.