Too many Project Managers find it’s their presentation skills that let them down.
Yet, having coached many presenters, I find that the difference between:
is usually very easy to fix.
There are a few simple things any project manager can do to brush up on your presentation skills.
This will show your project skills to their best and impress the people you want to influence. You’ll have a greater impact as a project manager, and it’s often your presentation skills that give a real boost to your career.
So this is what we’ll look at in this guide: the three key elements of presenting for project managers.
Project Managers often get plenty of opportunities to use their presentation skills. And, while some of us relish the opportunity to perform; others hate the idea. But, when the need arises, one thing is for sure:
People will judge you on how well you present.
Because the ‘halo effect’ means they won’t just judge you as a presenter. They will extend their assessment to other areas of your professional competence. If you present poorly, people will easily think you are a poor Project Manager.
Objectively, we know that this is not logical. But we cannot help it. If you give a poor presentation of good work, people will have two abiding memories:
So, there are clearly two powerful reasons why presentation skills should matter to you:
But what if you said to me:
‘Hold on, Mike. That’s all very well. But I’m interested in being a good Project Manager, not in looking like a good Project Manager.’
Well, I also argue that presenting is a core part of your Project Management skillset. After all, I’m not alone when I often tell people that:#ProjectManagement is 80 per cent Ccommunication. Click To Tweet
Here are some examples of where your presentation skills are essential to doing a good job as a project manager.
These three things also set out the three steps to giving a good presentation. So we will use them as a structure for this guide.
Before you start drafting your presentation, it pays to prepare. And this means deciding what you need to communicate, to meet your needs and the needs of your audience. I often use the metaphor of defusing a bomb. If you fail to prepare well, your presentation is like a ticking time bomb, waiting to go off in your face. The four components of your initial preparation are:
If you carry out these four steps properly, you will defuse the bomb.
First, ask yourself:
‘Why should my audience listen to my presentation? What is the benefit for them?’
Too often, you think first about what you want to say. But your audience is giving up their time, and giving you their attention. So you need to give them something in return, that is at least of equal benefit.
So, what do they want or need to know?
Start by seeing your next presentation through the eyes of your audience. When you craft a present that meets their needs, they are always going to be more interested in what you have to say. And that means they will find it more helpful and rate you higher.
But you are also investing your time, effort, and reputation in making this presentation. So, for what reason?
A good way to start designing your presentation is to ask yourself:
‘What do I want to be different, when my presentation is over’
One of the key presentation skills is your ability to trigger action. And this means knowing what action you would like.
If you start your thinking with the call to action (CTA) you’ll want to make at the end, you can focus your content on the key information that will lead up to that CTA. This will be information that:
Now you know what you want to achieve, and what your audience needs to get from your presentation, it’s time to ask yourself:
‘What is the story I need to tell?’
And I purposely frame your presentation as a story for two reasons:
Your Project Management presentation will have a central idea that you need to get across. This will lead directly to any call to action you need to make. So, these are the start and end of your presentation.
In between is a structure that will take you from your central idea to your call to action. Within that structure will be the evidence and practical information that will make your CTA not only persuasive but also practical for your audience. At the end, you want them to say:
‘I followed that argument, agreed with your evidence, and see why and how I can do what you suggest.’
The last part of your preparation is to do your homework. Make sure that you have all the knowledge you need, to draft a persuasive and powerful presentation. Ask yourself two questions:
‘What do I know about my audience, what they need, and what they know?’
‘What information do I need to know, to address my audience’s needs, and be confident that I can speak with authority?’
These questions will guide your research. And answering the first question may lead you to review your thinking on the Benefits, at the start of the BOMB process.
When I started learning about presentation skills, someone gave me a useful piece of advice. I genuinely do not recall who it was. They told me that you should never put everything you know into your presentation. First, because it means you are failing to select the most important information for your audience – and are therefore being lazy. Second, because that would mean that any good question from the audience will take you outside of your knowledge.
Their rule of thumb is to always know seven times as much as you present. Or, to put it another way, never present more than 15 percent of what you know. That way you have plenty in reserve. That accords well with the Pareto Principle, which tells us that approximately 80% of the value to your audience comes from 20% of the information you could present. So, I conclude that 15-20% of your knowledge is about right for a presentation.
Once you have done your preparation, the next step is to draft your presentation. Your goal is to make it compelling, persuasive, and powerful.
We shall look at each of these three components in sequence.
The most important aspect here is to create a logical structure that your audience can follow easily. Yes, novels, plays, and films sometimes adopt non-linear story-telling. But they are art that aims to entertain. You are a professional who needs to inform.
So, coming up with a straightforward sequence for your information is one of your vital presentation skills. And, don’t take chances. Use regular signposting to help your audience know where they are in your presentation, and what’s coming up next.
Here is a simple and effective structure that works every time.
A good introduction will get your presentation off to a powerful start, with your audience hooked on hearing what you have to say.
Luckily there is a simple but powerful formula that is used by professional writers from journalists to novelists. Even Jane Austen used it!
This way, it’s easy for them to agree with you, so you have them on your side right from the get-go. But you need to stop that pretty quickly, before they get bored.
This will raise their alertness, by increasing the stakes. Now, your presentation matters.
Either ask your audience a question directly or raise a question in their minds.
What happens when you hear a question?
That’s right… You try to think of an answer. Now you are mentally hooked:
This is the Central Idea of your presentation. Now your audience has a clear signpost for what they will get.
The lead into your main content is the question you are going to answer in your presentation:
You get the picture.
If your audience cares enough about the complication you introduced at step 2, they will want to hear your answers to the question at step 5. And these are the main parts of your presentation.
If you are, and you want to start your presentation powerfully, here is a great article on giving a good presentation, and how to start a presentation with 5 strong opening slides, from SlideModel.com (and 9 they also offer tricks for you to test).
We also have a great video on our sister site, Management Courses: Attending Meetings – Using Projector and Slides Effectively
Step 1: Too many Project Managers find it’s their presentation skills that let them down. [You probably knew that]
Step 2: Yet, having coached many presenters, I find that the difference between:
is usually very easy to fix. [Really? – I expect a lot of people will think it would be tricky]
Step 3: There are a few simple things any project manager can do to brush up on your presentation skills. [What are they?]
Step 4: This will show your project skills to their best, and impress the people you want to influence. You’ll have a greater impact as a project manager, and it’s often your presentation skills that give a real boost to your career. [Okay, so you see you can have a greater impact]
Step 5: So this is what we’ll look at in this guide: the key elements of presenting for project managers. [What are they? Tell me how?]
Here, I want to highlight the three elements that classical speakers and presenters going right back to ancient times have used. People are much the same now as they were three thousand years ago, so these methods still work.
Aristotle told us a speaker needs to demonstrate three things:
We’ll cover these in this order, because it’s the order that classical speakers learned to address these three, for maximum effect.
Ethos is about you. The first question your audience will need you to answer is:
‘Why should I listen to you?’
So right from the start, in the way you dress, introduce yourself, and open your presentation, you need to establish your credibility and your integrity.
Logos is about the facts – it literally means ‘the word’. Here is where you:
I usually find that this is the part Project Managers find easiest, because we tend to be in control of the facts. However, selecting out the minor points, so you can focus on the big points that matter, is a real skill. So too, is structuring that information.
Pathos is about your audience and how the facts matter to them. If you don’t know why they should care, you’ll never convince them.
So, answer one or more of these questions:
Here, you can appeal to a few fundamental drivers in our audience
Persuading your audience that you are right is not enough. You need to have an impact on them.
So, the next of your presentation skills is to speak with power. This means:
The main ways to be memorable are very simple:
For more detail…
Above all, you cannot get people to do something if they are unsure what to do. You need to craft a clear, unambiguous, simple call to action. Spell it out and make it easy.
But then, you want to motivate them to follow your CTA. So, do you know what the most powerful motivators are?
I think these are the main psychological hooks you can use. Of the three, fear is undoubtedly the most powerful. But it is also the most dangerous, so I always save this for the most important and urgent situations.
I like to focus on desire. Ask yourself this question about your audience:
‘What’s in it for you?’
If you know why they should act, and you tell them, you will be answering their most pressing question. And nothing compels action better than a big, fat, juicy ‘because‘.
The last of your presentation skills is to bring everything together in front of your audience.
You can hear a lot of nonsense from various trainers about how to give a good performance:
They all have their place. But unless you aim to be a polished professional speaker, rather than a professional project manager who presents well, they barely matter.
What matters is that your audience warms to you and finds you credible. And that means two things:
I cannot tell you how to be yourself. No one knows that but you. Of course, you need to slow down enough for people to follow you. This is especially true if some people in your audience are not fluent speakers of your language. And you certainly need to be loud enough for them to hear. And, of course, too much fidgeting or bobbing around can be a distraction.
But the basic guidance is that, as long as you are comfortable, your own natural style is the best one to use. Unless some aspect is so obtrusive that it detracts from your message, you’ll find that:
will be more distracting to your audience.
The biggest challenge for most speakers is confidence. many of us fear having to get up in front of people and speak to them. So, I have three tips for you, based on what I call the Triangle of Confidence. I have described this fully in our guide: Confidence: What You Need to Know to be a Confident Project Manager. I do recommend you read that article.
At our sister site, Management Courses, we offer a whole course, FREE, on personal impact. It covers topics like:
Click here – or on the image – to check it out.
A good call to action is essential at the end of a presentation. So here’s mine. Use the comments box below to share your thoughts on presentation skills for project managers. As always, I’ll respond to every contribution we get.
Take a look at our article: Communication Skills for Project Managers | The Best Books
Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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