Thursday, September 29, 2011

Know your Audience

“Who will be sitting in the audience when you present?”   That’s a question I always ask when coaching folks on their presentations skills. I’m often surprised when the answer is, “I’m not sure who will be there.”  Knowing your audience – the specific attendees or at least the nature of those you’ll be speaking to – is critical to making a successful presentation.

Be a detective

Here are some questions to ask yourself, and to ask your manager and others who might better know your audience or the meeting attendees:
·        How much do the attendees know about my subject?
·        Are they technical?  Managers? A mix?
·        And, if a mix, at what level do I pitch my presentation?
·        How well do they know me? Do I need to establish my credentials or expertise, or can I skip that information?
·        What attitude does the audience have?  Friendly? Eager? Skeptical? Hostile?

Moreover, learn the names of the people who will be at your meeting, if possible.  At work, an agenda is often sent out by email. Look at the distribution list, note the names you recognize, and find out who the other people are, whether they will be at the meeting, and what their interest is in your topic.

Knowing the attendees is not possible at a large conference, though you should have a good idea of their level of expertise and interest. However, in a smaller meeting, you can and need to know who will be attending. Often an interruption or question arises from the audience (in person or via teleconferencing), and you want to be able to know who asked the question, as well as ascertain the reasoning of the questioner. 

Everyone needs a friend

I mentioned in a previous blog that it’s important to have an ally or supporter in the audience or at the meeting.  Find the most respected person you can, share in advance your material and get his/her buy-in, and make sure your ally is at the meeting. We all need such support. The notion of walking in alone and handling the situation, like John Wayne at high noon in a western town, is usually only effective in cowboy movies.

If you get questions or push back on your idea, that’s the time to turn to your ally and ask for his/her comments. Use your ally to bolster your credibility. If he/she knows and agrees to what you are proposing, you’ll have a much easier chance of success with a skeptical audience.

Who is the decision-maker?  

If the purpose of your presentation is to gain a “yes” for your recommendation or get approval for a project or resources, always make sure the decision-maker is present. Otherwise, you may have wasted time and energy, you may suffer an unnecessary defeat, and you may lose the chance to present again to the “right” person.  

If you are not sure who the decision-maker is, ask.  Your manager is an excellent resource because he/she likely knows the politics, the budgets, the constraints, and the decision-makers.  Find out the person or persons you need to influence, and start the influencing process well in advance of your presentation.

No one likes to be surprised, especially anyone in the position of making a decision.  The more information you provide to your stakeholders and decision-makers in advance of your actual presentation, the easier your presentation will go.  It might even be fun!

Next time, we’ll look at our five presenters introduced in an earlier blog, and explore in more detail what they need to know about their audiences that will help them craft effective presentations.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Plan for Success – Before you Stand Up to Present!

Last week I introduced you to five employees who will soon make important presentations. Over the coming weeks, I’m going to offer tips on how each of them can succeed. First, it’s critical to consider upfront whether they have a chance of achieving their purposes.  And if so, what will success look like?

Like them, you need to evaluate well in advance of putting together the presentation your chances of achieving your purpose. Why? So that you can formulate a strategy, carefully structure your message, get compelling data, invite the “right” people, and set the stage for your success.

Five scenarios illustrate what success can look like 

Jose needs to inform his team of the data and feedback from the latest customer surveys. To succeed he needs to provide the appropriate data his team wants, and anticipate their questions. He also needs to distill information rather than do a “data dump.” Success is measured by whether he chooses and shares all relevant information, answers all questions and leaves his audience satisfied, and sets the stage for discussion/decisions based on his report.

Sue needs to instruct her people on new factory safety features. The clarity and specificity of her instruction and directions are critical, as is allowing enough time for questions. Measuring success might mean asking for employee demonstrations or a proficiency test, and zero safety issues in the future is another longer-term measurable.
Abdul wants to recommend a new inventory system and get approval so he can start implementation.  He should have laid the groundwork in earlier meetings for why a new system is important. Now he’ll need solid, persuasive data on costs, disruptions, scheduling, resources, etc. His audience is senior management; he must answer their rigorous questions. Success depends on the decision-makers being present. His measure of success: does he get the green light to move ahead with implementation.

Mei wants to spark interest in and gain support from her manager and team to explore new research ideas.  Mei needs to paint a picture of what her research idea can offer and where it may lead. Industry data, trends, as-yet-to-be solved problems and gaps in her company’s product/patent portfolio, as well as her own preliminary work, are imperative to convince managers to support her ideas. She so needs senior-level advocates on board. Like Abdul, she must insure that decision-makers are present. Her measurable is a bit tricky: to move beyond discussion of her ideas and get approval to start the research.

Tom’s purpose is to evaluate the successes and failures of the Grand Opening of the company’s newest store.  Such a meeting is sometimes called a de-brief or a post-mortem (a medical term to describe the cause of death). Tom must carefully sift, organize and deliver a wealth of data -- sales reports, number of shoppers, inventory management, etc., as well as provide anecdotal feedback from customers and employees. He will succeed if his audience makes sense of the data and experiences, and draws useful lessons for the next Opening.

So, what is the purpose of your upcoming presentation? 

I suggest you answer that question by completing these statements:
·        My purpose is to _______________________________________ 
·        In order to achieve my purpose I must ______________________
·        I’ll know if I am successful if ­­­­­­_____________________________

If you can’t complete these sentences, you’re not ready for “show time.” Re-think your purpose, or break up your presentation into action steps, each of which moves you to your purpose. Re-organize and hone your presentation to include precisely what your audience needs in order to give you want you want. Make sure you’ve invited advocates and decision-makers, and schedule your presentation only when you’re sure those folks will be present.

Next time I’ll write about how you evaluate your audience. After all, a presentation is really communication with listeners. You want to know all you can about them.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

You -- A Successful Presenter!

Picture yourself in a business conference room. You sit calmly, ready to speak, eager to share what you know, and confident of achieving your purpose. Then you stand. Your strong and confident voice projects to the back of the room. All eyes look up from laptops and phone screens to focus on you and your compelling presentation material. Your narrative is a seamless weave of facts, examples and illustrations that keep your audience listening, questioning, and nodding. You deliver just the right number of details and words, summarize in the time allotted to you on the agenda, and sit down. You breathe deeply and smile. Sweet.

Yes, you can be an effective, polished presenter

During the coming weeks, I’ll be blogging with tips and strategies to help you become the kind of presenter pictured in that first paragraph. I define success as achieving the purpose of your presentation, with a delivery that demonstrates your confidence, expertise, and authority. 

Of course there are many types of presentations: formal speeches in front of an auditorium audience or at an international conference; informal talks given to your coworkers or customers or management team in small meeting room or via phone/video conferencing.

No matter what your venue or audience, however, the fundamentals of presenting for success remain constant: a clear purpose, knowledge of your audience, compelling narration and organizational structure, appropriate information and visuals, attention-grabbing introduction, and effective conclusion.

Why am I giving this talk?

The very first question you should ask yourself when thinking about a presentation is, “Why am I presenting?”

Wrong answers to that question include: “My manager told me to do it.” “I’m pinch-hitting* for a sick coworker.” “No one else wanted to present, so I guess it’ll have to do it.”   Those might be the reasons for why you’re standing nervously in front of a skeptical audience, but they are not your purpose.

Define your purpose by what you want to achieve. For example, your purpose may be to:
·        Inform/update
·        Instruct/train
·        Recommend action and ask for agreement/approval
·        Gain interest in and support for your strategy or methodology
·        Evaluate/Debrief

Certainly there are other reasons to give a speech, such as entertaining an audience with an after-dinner talk, or inspiring others through a church sermon.  The bulleted purposes above are business-oriented, and they are the ones you’ll most likely encounter at work.

Five business people demonstrate what success looks like

Drawing on presentations classes and coaching sessions I've conducted over many years, I’ve created composites of individuals who are charged with delivering a business presentation.  I invite you to follow their stories in the coming weeks, as they build and deliver successful presentations to achieve their purposes.  
·        Jose needs to inform his team of the data and feedback from the latest customer surveys. 
·        Sue must instruct her reports on the new safety procedures in the factory.
·        Abdul is eager to recommend to senior management a new inventory system and get approval to implement it.
·        Mei wants gain support from her manager and team to explore an exciting avenue for new research.
·        Tom has called a meeting to evaluate the successes and failures of the Grand Opening of the company’s newest store.

Next week, learn how the five employees get clarity for achieving their purposes, and practice getting clarity on your purpose for an upcoming presentation. Also, you’ll learn how to make sure your purpose is achievable and measurable.

* The idiom “pinch hit” comes from baseball, where one batter is substituted for another in order to have a chance of getting a hit. See my book, Touch All the Bases: The Culture and Idioms of America's Pastime - Baseball: Stories for Learning Useful Business Idioms (Volume 3) for many other baseball idioms used in business.

I welcome your comments and your questions on strategies for successful presentations in your business environment.  

Jolinda Osborne