The most effective presentations aren’t presentations at all. They are conversations, and you probably already have all the skills you need, you’ve been using them since the day you were born.
Let’s say the big boss is coming to your regional office and he’s going to have a full day of all the department heads presenting their annual plans to him.
Your end goal is that you want to stand out, so the big boss remembers you in particular.
The easiest way to stand out is to do what other people are not doing.
Start out by thinking about what are the other department heads doing? What they’re usually doing, if their presentation is to be thirty minutes, is start out with about an hour of content, and then gradually cut things out until they get down closer and closer to forty minutes.
Once they get to 40 minutes, they often say we can’t cut anymore, so they take that forty minutes and they try to cram it into thirty minutes.
Now remember, for a second, who these people are. They, like you, are the world’s experts on their subjects. They spend all day, every day, working deep in their subjects. The big boss is not deep in their subjects — he or she has a million other things to worry about.
So they are the world’s experts, but they end up speaking too fast and doing everything they’re not good at, because they’re trying to use unfamiliar “presentation skills” to cram 30 minutes of content into 40 minutes. Their presentations ends up being terrible, and they go home knowing the big boss doesn’t realize how brilliant they are.
You, however, go the other way. You, like the presenters before and after you, know your subject better than anybody in the world, so distill it into a couple sentences. We’ve even seen one of our clients take an entire year’s strategic plan and distill it into six words.
The result is that the others will get up there and start presenting to the big boss, and their messages will get lost, and they’ll disappear into the crowd, and they’ll be trying to do a million other “presentation things,” but they won’t be doing what they’re really good at, which is talking about the subject they’ve spent years working on.
You, however, get to get up there and confidently talk about the things you’re really good at, using the skills you’ve already been practicing every day for your whole life.
Instead of trying to smoothly cram 40 minutes of content into 30 minutes (which never works, by the way), and using a bunch of unfamiliar “presentation skills” to do it, you walk into that room knowing how to distill your entire message into a few words, and the rest of the time you get to use the same communication skills you’ve already been working on your whole life.
Yes, it’s kind of counter-intuitive, but the best way to present is the way that doesn’t use “presentation skills” at all, and instead unlocks the skills you already have: the communication skills you’ve already been practicing your whole life, and the subject matter expertise you bury yourself in every day at work.
Now, distilling your message into a few words does not mean you get to be lazy, or that you’re going to oversimplify things. You’re not going to walk into that presentation room, magically deliver your entire message in 15 seconds, and then confidently strut out of the room while everyone says, “Oh my god, that was the most amazing presentation I ever saw!”
In fact, learning how to express yourself in just a few words is at least as hard as trying to remember 30 minutes of presentation, and it often results in conversations that last the full 30 minutes.
Because the big boss is going to want to ask followup questions. He’s definitely going to want to drill down into more detail. So those 30 minutes of slides that you made, all that data, all those charts, you’re probably going to need those. You’re not going to be able to magically throw them all away.
This approach is going to do two things:
1. It’s going to remind you that you are the world’s expert on this subject, and you will find yourself finding the confidence that comes from knowing it.
2. More importantly, it allows you to spend most of those 30 minutes having a genuine two-way conversation with the big boss.
Remember that the point of this presentation is to stand out. And what is the key to standing out? Doing things that others are not doing.
What are others doing? Puking out a bunch of data, and then leaving the room, and then someone else comes in and does the exact same thing, and then they leave the room, and then someone else comes in and they do the exact same thing.
And then you come in, and you’ve focused your message so much that you can cover it in just a few minutes, and then you get to spend the rest of the time having a natural two-way conversation with the big boss.
And your competitors, the other department heads, they’re not going to be able to do this, because they are going to be rushing through, and every time the big boss asks them a question, it’s going to slow them down and interrupt their train of thought, and they are going to be rushing through their answers to the big boss, because they are thinking, every moment I spend talking about this is a moment I don’t get to spend talking about one of the other initiatives in my 30-minute presentation.
They will not be present while they are responding to questions from the most important person in the room. You, however, will be.
We guarantee, the big boss is going to have questions for you.
We’ve never seen it not happen.
We guarantee that he is going to drill down deep. We guarantee that you are going to walk out of that room feeling drained, like you have drawn on every mental resource available to you.
The difference is, now answering the big boss’s questions is a conversation, not a presentation, and you’ve been practicing your conversation skills since the day you were born.
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About Matt Krause
Matt began his professional life managing inventory levels for wholesale import companies and forecasting labor costs for national retail chains. Since 2006, he has been teaching professionals how to present themselves and their companies better. His clients work for companies like Citibank, Microsoft, 3M, P&G, and HP.