Presentation skills – do you care about your customer needs?

One of the key tasks that a product manager has to do is evangelize your product to customers, prospects, industry analysts, partners etc. You have to sell the benefits of your product to these audiences. Having just returned from another conference – the Enterprise Search Summit in NYC, I continue to be dismayed as to how bad people’s presentation skills are. The conference was filled with presentations from subject matter experts, but there were only about five effective, persuasive presentations. Rest were powerpoint slides filled with text and these experts were quite happy to read from these slides.

If you want to be effective, you cannot do this. If the industry standard for presentations is so dismal, you have a golden opportunity to create a differentiator for yourselves, your product and your company. Your good presentation will be remembered and talked about. One of the presentators at the conference got an ovation when he said he was not going to use powerpoint – the audience is craving for such presentations, they are indeed tired of powerpoint. Given that your job is to have a pulse on the market needs, take note – the audience is craving for good presentations.

I had written about this topic “What’s in it for the audience?” in my old blog. I am including it below as well.

What’s in it for the audience?

Can you think of a recent presentation that you have attended where Powerpoint has not been used. I don’t know about you, but I have not gone to one. I regularly attend conferences and listen to a lot of “so called” subject experts. There is no doubt that the speakers that I have listened to are very good at what they do. They indeed are experts in their subject matter. But what about their presentation skills. That is another story. In my perspective, presentation skills of even these experts are very low. It continues to amaze me as to how many presenters just read off the slides, have nothing more to say than what is on the slide. So why do people who are very good at what they do, struggle when it comes to presenting? Public speaking after all is not an easy task. I would not be surprised if even the best speakers get nervous speaking in front of a large audience. The fear of “what if I forget what I have to say”, “what if I say the wrong thing” is there in most of us mortals.

To fight this fear, we have found a perfect savior in Powerpoint. It lets us write all of our thoughts into slides and then read them out. We no longer have to remember anything, we no longer have to fear saying the wrong thing or ever having to forget what we want to say. It is all there right on our powerpoint slides. But with this has come a mammoth shift. Presenters no longer fear anything, but it is now the audience who fear having to survive Powerpoint presentations. The problem folks is we have gone from speakers to readers. Speakers, by the very nature of the word, have to think about what they have to speak about. Readers seem to want to read what they have written on the slide. Readers have now conveniently forgotten about the audience – why are there here, why should they listen to us, what is in it for them?

I took presentation training myself and before this, my presentations probably would have stood a chance of making into an “How not to do presentations?” article as well. I would by no means claim to be an expert in presentations, but I have picked up some valuable skills through my training that I would like to share with you.

First of all, think of some great speakers you have listened to. Take radio broadcasters for example. Do they use Powerpoint? What about politicians, do they use Powerpoint when they are on the election trail – they in my opinion get it – they know what the audience wants to hear – OK, they will tell you what you want to hear – but at least they think a whole lot about their audience before they get up to speak. Convince yourselves that Powerpoint is not absolutely needed for a presentation.

Here are some tips that you could use for your next presentation:

  1. What is your message for your audience? What is in it for them? Why would they want to listen to you? If you are presenting at a conference, the audience have likely spend a lot of money and taken time off from work to come to listen to you. You owe it to them to deliver a great presentation. (When I am presenting at a conference, in some cases, I have been able to get a list of registered attendees before hand and through a survey have been able to find out about what they may want to hear. This also helps you to advertise your presentation in a way).
  2. What are the three things you want your audience to walk away with? Just three, any more and they will likely not remember anything. Start from there, then figure out your introduction (not how you are going to introduce yourself, but your message) and then fill in your supporting visual aids.
  3. Start with the assumption that you don’t need Powerpoint at all and see if you can live without it. You have to convince yourself that without Powerpoint slides you will be less effective in delivering your message, before you choose to include them.
  4. Text on a Powerpoint slide is your competition – humans can read text faster than they can listen. So unless you are speaking to non-humans, your audience will naturally read what you have on the slides and not listen to you. Use images instead of text. “After all a picture is worth a thousand words”.
  5. Repeat to yourself “Powerpoint slides are not my presentation, they are my visual aids. I am the presentation”
  6. Practice, practice, practice. No, you cannot wing it. This is not an extempore. You are hear to convince someone with your message. If you want your message to stick, you will need to practice and iterate.
  7. If you are required to write a speaker introduction (like at a conference), write one that leads into your message. The audience is not really interested in knowing all the degrees you have, where you got your degrees from, how many awards and other accolades you have received etc. The audience is there to take away your key messages and not to become experts on your credentials (Don’t get me wrong, credentials help build your credibility, but the intro does not have to be your entire resume).
  8. Evaluate how well you did right after your presentation. In some cases, I have asked the audience right there and then on how well I did. Tell them you are looking for their honest feedback. It is another way of telling them that you care if your presentation helped them.

Getting better at presentations is a gradual process. You have to continuously work on it. I hope you found the above tips helpful, if not I would like to know. Good luck for your next presentation !! Go get them with your message !!

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