10 Ways to Nail the Surprise Presentation

You've got two days to prepare a presentation for a group of managers. Here's how to do it.

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You’re been told that you have a mere two days to come up with a presentation for a small group of managers. It’s going to be held in a conference room and you are expected to answer their questions about a new program. Here are some approaches to consider:

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1. Although no one has had a chance to ask questions at this stage, start putting together a list of answers to what you believe will be the frequently asked questions. Canvas people ahead of time to get their thoughts on the “need to know” items. Recognize that the audience’s overall question will be “How does this affect me?” Plan to answer the questions via your presentation, the handouts, or both.

2. Since you will be talking to a small group, scrap the PowerPoint. Just use a flip chart or a white board. PowerPoint would create a barrier. You want an informal atmosphere.

3. Identify the key topics and attach those to a central theme. That theme will be the tree trunk of your talk and the related topics will be the branches. Having a theme will permit you to segue easily from topic to topic. This is especially important if someone raises a question about a subject that you planned to address later in your presentation. Rather than postponing the answer, you can go ahead and discuss the matter and then, using the theme, shift back to your preferred order. Your central theme should be so simple that it can be described in one sentence or even one word.

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4. Encourage interruptions for questions. Having them hold their questions for the end often discourages questioning. You want a lively group.

5. You think you know what their questions will be, but start the session by asking for--and listing--questions they hope you’ll answer. At the end of the presentation, make sure that you’ve addressed each of their concerns. (With most subjects you can expect questions in too main areas: Risks and resources. What are the risks? Will we have sufficient resources?)

6. Don’t distribute a written version of your presentation at the beginning. You’ll lose the audience. Save hand-out materials for the end unless they are required for a section or exercise.

7. Don’t expect perfection. That is not your goal. You don’t need to be smooth or eloquent. Your goal is to be effective. Some of the most effective speakers would not get top scores in a speech contest. Strive to clarify points, not win them.

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8. Avoid reading aloud. Use a conversational tone. If you don’t know something, admit it. In order to be effective, you must be trustworthy.

9. Establish eye contact with each person--not just a general glance--and carefully listen for what they mean, not just what they say. Watch their body language. If it seems like someone is holding back a thought, directly ask the person, “Do you see any downsides or concerns?”

10. Don’t swamp them with details. Have the information in reserve in case they ask, but avoid giving them far more information than they desire. “I’ll be glad to elaborate on that point if you’d like” lets them decide if they want more.

Finally, don’t be spooked by the limited preparation time. It may be an ally since it will force you to focus on the essentials and avoid unneeded glitz. Go in with the idea that this is not a lecture so much as it is a joint exploration of the subject. You'll improve your chances for success.

Michael Wade writes Execupundit.com, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.

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