Most presentation skills advice assumes a “typical” professional presentation: say, 30-60 minutes with you and PowerPoint at the front of the room, presenting to 5-20 people. You talk and show slides; and they listen, take notes and ask questions.
That might be typical for you as well, but it’s not the only option. Good leaders know how to tailor their message to the setting and the time available. You will deliver the same message differently in a 140-character tweet, in a small meeting room in your office, and from the stage at your organisation’s national conference.
Let’s consider five different levels at which you can deliver your message. Each builds on those before it, and is based broadly on the time you have available.
1. Just get to the point
If you have limited time, you have to get to the point immediately. As much as you would like to show slides, draw pictures, understand the audience’s starting point, and tell a compelling story, you just don’t have the time. So just get to the point!
In practice, you focus on your goal, which has two perspectives:
- Audience: Know the outcome you want from your audience.
- You: State your point clearly and succinctly.
2. Show them the shift
If you have a few minutes to sit down with somebody and make your point, sketch a diagram showing the current situation and what you want to change.
For example, imagine having coffee with the most important person who needs to hear your message, and they give you five minutes to present it. You know what you want from them, and you have your succinct, one-sentence point in mind. How can you make the most of the few extra minutes?
You don’t have a PowerPoint deck handy (and it’s not the right place for it anyway), but you can grab a pen and paper napkin to sketch a diagram. This isn’t a work of art; it’s just a diagram showing your current situation, and you then draw arrows or circles showing what you want to change.
3. Get them on board
At the next level, you again have more time – perhaps ten minutes rather than five. What will you add now to your presentation? You could add a story, share some facts and data, or even show a brief slide show. These are all effective, but we’re going to leave them to the next stage.
Instead, at this stage, a more powerful approach is to focus on what happens immediately before and immediately after your presentation:
- Before (framing): Get the audience in the right frame of mind to hear your message.
- After (pacing): Step them through the specific action you want them to take after you end.
4. Add colour and texture
The presentation we have created so far has a point, a goal, a diagram to show a shift, understanding of the audience’s frame of mind, and clear action steps. That’s a good start, but it doesn’t have much depth. It’s a cartoon, not a painting. If you have limited time, it’s better than nothing; but if you have more time, you can do better. So let’s add colour and texture to it.
We have two main tools available: stories, to appeal to their emotions; and data, to appeal to their logical mind.
Most business presentations have too much data and too few stories. To make your presentation more effective, use both stories and data to reinforce your message.
5. Make it active
You now have an effective presentation. Its only weakness is that it’s one-way delivery only, with your audience sitting there passively absorbing it. The final step is to build in opportunities for audience interaction. Rather than adding more points, more stories, or more data, use that extra time for audience interaction.
Do you have all five levels of flexibility?
Putting this all together gives you a formula for a powerful presentation:
You build it from bottom to top, adding more components to fill the available time. If you have only a few minutes, you might have to settle for just the first two levels (know your goal, and draw a quick sketch to make your point). With longer presentations, you can add more levels. With experience, you can even mix up the order (for example, using a story in even a short presentation).
You now have diverse ways of presenting your message, depending on the length of time available.