What can make a project manager’s heart sink faster than being told that there’s a meeting of the directors on Tuesday and you’re invited to attend and talk about your project? The pressure. The responsibility. Sure, you’re happy that the directors of the company trust you enough that they want your input in the project, but having to present in front of these powerful players is making your stress levels spike.
Then you’re asked, “Can you do 10 minutes on your project at the next Town Hall meeting?” Oh no. That means standing up in front of 300 people. How can you possibly do a presentation that will be interesting to all of them?
If you haven’t come across these requests from senior managers yet, you will! Both these scenarios are common on projects, especially projects that introduce a new product or involve organizational change. But don’t feel overwhelmed. Giving presentations may feel scary, but you can plan and prepare for them just like any other meeting.
#1: Create a calendar invite
You can’t just expect people to turn up – they need to know that there is an important event that requires their attendance, so get it in their diaries. People plan their meetings and calendar appointments sometimes quite far in advance, giving ample warning. Schedule the presentation as soon as you can, and check with the individuals (or their assistants) if you don’t get a reply about their availability.
If you have been invited to someone else’s meeting to talk about your project, make sure it is in your planner and book some time to plan for it in advance. If you don’t, you risk running out of time to prepare your material.
#2: Select Your Format
How are you going to get your message across? If you’ve scheduled a meeting it’s likely that you are expecting to do a formal presentation. That’s fine, but how? Will you use slides or flip charts or mirror your iPad on a monitor? Do you expect the audience to participate in any part of the presentation? Can you speak without notes or would it be better to have some pointers with you on the day?
You should also consider where you will be giving the presentation. For example, a format that is suitable for a small room and a limited audience, such as a loosely-structured project update with a couple of slides, is not going to be appropriate for a room full of stakeholders, laid out like a lecture theatre with you at a lectern at the front.
#3: Write Big
Whether you are using slides or flip charts, write big or use big fonts. It is often difficult to see what is on the screen, even in a small room – and that means your message is not getting across. And it’s an excuse for audience members to check their phones instead of listening to you.
A good tip is to print out your slides and put them on the floor. If you can still read them clearly from a standing position, then the text is big enough. If you can’t read the words or you have to bend down to read them, make the font size larger!
#4: Tell A Story
You have probably sat through a fair few presentations in your time, and I expect you’ve tried to stop yourself nodding off in some of them. Project status updates can be boring. If the subject matter isn’t dull, often the speaker is. Don’t let that be you.
One way to keep the attention of the audience is to structure your presentation in the most interesting fashion. Consider what they will find interesting (and it won’t be the same as what you find interesting). Telling the story of your project is a good idea. Think about a start, a middle and an end to your presentation. Perhaps follow the lifecycle from the perspective of a customer. Focus on the benefits and not the project management processes. If you don’t know if your presentation material makes sense, run it past a friend or family member who doesn’t know anything about your project. If they don’t fall asleep, it’s OK!
Giving presentations is a skill. Practice, practice, practice. Before your big project presentation, volunteer to do some smaller ones, like staff briefings or shorter updates at team meetings. You want to feel comfortable both standing up in front of the room and with the material. Run through your presentation at home or in an empty meeting room so that you remember where the slide transitions are. Practice using the projector and a clicker to move the slides forward. Write out your flip charts several times so that it becomes second nature. Watch Jennifer Bridges video on How to Deliver a Great Presentation.
Practice and training will make your delivery much more polished and professional and give your audience a far better experience.
#6: Have A Backup Plan
Projectors break, meeting rooms don’t have conference phones in, pens run out just at the critical moment. Plan for everything to go wrong. Your presentation audience is made up of busy people and they don’t want to sit there watching you fiddle with the technology. Get it all working before they arrive, and if it doesn’t work when you get going, make sure that you have a backup plan (like a printout of your slides) so that you can carry on anyway.
#7: Ask For Feedback
When your presentation is over, ask for feedback. You could do this directly at the end of the session before people leave the room, or a couple of days later. It’s good to get some feedback as it helps you work on what to improve for next time.
Ask people to give you their impressions both of your presentation skills and also of the presentation content. You could find that the content was really good but you lacked confidence delivering it, or conversely that you were an engaging presenter but the material was not relevant to them. All this is useful stuff to know and it will help you improve your presentation skills for next time.
Giving presentations isn’t an everyday occurrence on projects but it is likely that you will have to give one or two during the project lifecycle – more if your project involves a lot of workshops or user sessions. Don’t panic – presentation skills are something that you can learn and you will get better with practice! Once you have cracked it, you’ll feel confident delivering presentations and you’ll find that it gets easier to prepare for them in the future.
The scheduling features of our software can be used to book your presentations on the team calendar, which can be easily seen on the project dashboard. With it you have the ability to share agendas and slides after the presentation with the online document library. Then you can carry on the discussion after the meeting by using the great chat tool. Try the software from ProjectManager free for 30 days and see how helpful it really is.