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Presentation Skills: A Guide for Project Managers

Presentation Skills - A Guide for Project Managers

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:

  • a clear, confident presentation, and
  • a waffly, wobbly presentation

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.

PMI Talent Triangle - Leadership

So this is what we’ll look at in this guide: the key elements of presenting for project managers.

Why Presentation Skills Matter to a Project Manager

Presentation Skills - A Guide for Project ManagersProject managers often get plenty of opportunities to use our 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.

This has more impact than it first appears. 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, they know that this is not logical. But we cannot help it. It you give a poor presentation of of good work, people will have two abiding memories:

  1. Where was the evidence of good work
  2. This person does not come across as professional

So, there are clearly two powerful reasons why presentation skills should matter to you:

  1. They are how you showcase your project management achievements
  2. They set the tone for how people perceive you as a professional

Part of the Role of Project Manager

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 goo Project Manager.’

Well, I also argue that presenting is a core part of your project management skill-set. After all, I often tell people that:

#ProjectMnagement 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.

The Essential Elements of Good Presentation Skills

The Essential Elements of Good Presentation Skills

The Essential Elements of Good Presentation Skills

    1. Being clear about the information you want to convey


    1. Putting together a presentation that is compelling, powerful, and persuasive


    1. Performing your presentation with confidence


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.

Being Clear about the Information You want to Convey


Being Clear about the Information You want to Convey

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:

  1. Benefits
  2. Outcomes
  3. Map
  4. Background

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.

What’s in it for them?

So, what do they want or need to know?

  • How will they use the information you give them?
  • Why will they be attending your presentation?
  • How do they need to change?

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.

Call to Action

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:

  • makes your CTA an obvious ending
  • compels your audience to want to act


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:

  1. Firstly, because humans are story-telling and story-listening creatures. This is how we best absorb information.It’s also a great way to build emotion into a business-focused presentation.
  2. Secondly, because a story has a narrative structure. And it is by creating a logical structure that you will make your presentation compelling.

The Elements of Your Story

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, they will 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.

The 7x Factor

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 per cent 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% ofyour knowledge is about right for a presentation.

Putting together a Presentation that is Compelling Powerful and Persuasive


Putting together a Presentation that is Compelling, Powerful, and Persuasive

Once you have done your preparation, the next step is to draft your presentation. Your goal is to make it compelling, persuasive, and powerful.

  1. Compelling
    Draw your audience in, keep them engaged, and help them to understand your presentation.
    You do this with a clear structure that uses flow and sequence. The best tools to help you are a story-telling approach, and question and answer frameworks.
  2. Persuasive
    Change the way your audience thinks, by helping them understand the world as you see it, and generate agreement with your point of view.
    You do this by creating a persuasive argument that uses the three elements of character, reason, and emotion.
  3. Powerful
    Drive change by making your audience remember what you say and want to act on your recommendations.
    Do this by addressing their needs, being memorable, and using your knowledge of psychology.

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 straight-forward 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.

A Works-every-time Compelling Structure

Here is a simple and effective structure that works every time.

  1. Introduce your central idea
  2. Ask a question about it, like:
    1. Why… is it true?
    2. How… can you implement it?
    3. What… are the components?
    4. How… did it happen?
    5. Who… are the people involved?
    6. What if…something goes wrong?
  3. Introduce the principle answers to your question
    Seven should be the absolute maximum, and three is the most memorable number
  4. For each principle answer, have a section that you divide into a small number (2-5) of parts
  5. When you have covered one answer, move to the next and repeat
  6. When you have covered all your answers, summarize
  7. Finally, make your call to action

How to Introduce your Central Idea

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!

Step 1: Tell the audience something they know

This way, it’s easy for them to agree with you, so you have them on your side. But you need to stop that pretty quickly, before they get bored.

Step 2: Tell the audience something surprising, controversial, worrying…

This will raise their alertness, by increasing the stakes. Now, your presentation matters.

Step 3: Pose a question

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 hoked. If you have an answer, you want to know if it’s the right one. Or if you are confident, you want to know if the presenter will get it right! If you do’t have an answer, you want to know what the answer is.

Step 4: Reveal your Answer

This is the Central Idea of your presentation. Now your audience has a clear signpost for what they will get.

Step 5: Another question

The lead into your main content is the question you are going to answer in your presentation. It might justify your central idea, so the question would be ‘why?’ Maybe you will spell out how to implement your central idea, so your question would be ‘how?’ Or perhaps your central idea id about risk and you are going to lay out some scenarios, so your question could be ‘what if?’ 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.

As an aside, can you see how I used this structure to introduce this article?

Step 1: Too many Project Managers find it’s their presentation skills that let them down. [I knew that]

Step 2: Yet, having coached many presenters, I find that the difference between:

  • a clear, confident presentation, and
  • a waffly, wobbly presentation

is usually very easy to fix. [Really – I thought 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 i 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?]


The science of persuasion and influence is a huge discipline, so I recommend you read our article Persuasion and Influence: A Through Introduction.

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:

  1. Ethos – Character
  2. Logos – Reason
  3. Pathos – Emotion

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:

  • Select the information that will be most persuasive, and
  • Present it in a logical way that creates a convincing argument

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.


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:

  1. What will happen for your audience if they act on your call to action?
  2. And what if they do not?
  3. What won’t happen if they act on your call to action?
  4. And what won’t happen if they don’t?

Here, you can appeal to a few fundamental drivers in our audience

  • Fear
  • Desire
  • Loyalty
  • Duty


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. his means:

  • Being memorable
  • Inciting action or change

How to be Memorable

The main ways to be memorable are very simple:

  1. Keep your message simple and don’t say too much. Just three points is great. One is ideal.
  2. Repeat your key points again and again.
  3. Introduce your key points at the start, when your audience is alert.
  4. Repeat your key points again and again.
  5. Remind your audience of your key points at the end, so they stay fresh.

How to Incite Action

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?

  • Fear
  • Desire
  • Curiosity

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‘.

Performing Your Presentation with Confidence


Performing Your Presentation with Confidence

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:

  • Make big movements
  • Stay in one place
  • Use lots of slides
  • Don’t use too many slides
  • Speak loudly
  • Talk slowly
  • Speed up to keep your audience alert

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.

The Two Big Things

What matters is that your audience warms to you and finds you credible. And that means two things:

  1. Be yourself, and make your speech and movements natural.
  2. Be confident, so that you can project that confidence to your audience.

Being Yourself

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:

  • Trying to suppress who you are or
  • Putting on some kind of act

will be more distracting to your audience.

Be Confident

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.

What is Your Experience of Presentation, as a Project Manager?

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 arespond to every contribution we get.



About the Author Mike Clayton

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 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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