Presenting Like a Pro

There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.   - Dale Carnegie

I recently found myself presenting to the CEO of the company. Exciting, right? Or perhaps scary? Or maybe a little of both.

I’m not exactly sure when this happened, but I have developed into a pretty decent presenter (if I do say so myself!). I am not perfect by any means. I still get nervous and sometimes ramble on a bit more than I should. But I usually feel pretty confident going into the situation and leave feeling like I did a good job.

As a project manager, you will likely need to present to leadership on project status, project details, or project outcomes. While you can rely on your subject matter experts to get into really technical aspects of the project (and by technical, I do not only mean IT-related) – that does not let you off the hook. You will show up better as a leader if you take ownership of the project and the content by knowing it well and being able to speak to it fluently.

  Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

That’s one of the more exciting parts about being a project manager for me. I get to learn about SO many different parts of the business. I’ve moved through three industries and three business functions, which has allowed me to constantly acquire new information. And my goal each time is to master that content not only for my own benefit, but for the good of the project.

So how do I prepare for presentations? Here are a few tips that should help you look like an all-star!

  • Ask questions to fully understand the content – If you have read even a handful of my posts, you are not surprised that this is my #1 tip. I remember spending hours at the start of one project meeting with the subject matter expert on global background checks, asking her so many detailed questions that she probably thought I was crazy. But with that knowledge base, then everything that we worked through together as the project progressed, I could say that I really understood the content and could speak to it with confidence.
  • Develop the presentation yourself – For me, it is always helpful if I personally develop the slides I am presenting. I understand that as I progress in my career, or as I work with a larger group of people and then represent them during a presentation, it is not always possible to be the author of each slide. But if it is possible, take on that task because it will really help you understand the information and flow.
  • Know what story you are trying to tell – As I have become a better presenter, I have found that I put less and less content on the actual slides. I rely more on the story I want to tell and the information I want to convey, and then let the words on the slide guide and prompt me. If you understand your story from start to finish, you will have an easier time getting through the presentation.
  • Practice ahead of time – This one should be a no-brainer! Once you have asked your questions, developed the presentation, and understood the story you’re planning to tell, practice telling that story. Think about how you best learn and absorb information, and practice in that way. For example, I sometimes write down exactly what I want to say on a printout of the presentation, and then I go through the slides out loud a few times. Hearing myself say the words combined with the repetition are key steps to my preparation.
  • Remember that you know the content better than anyone else – So now you are up there presenting. The good news is that no one knows what you are going to say. So if you happen to skip something, or say something differently from what you originally planned, do not fret! You have all of this knowledge in your brain from your preparation. Look for prompts on your slide, remember the story you want to tell, and get back on track.
  • Ask for feedback – Once the presentation is over, do not be afraid to ask how you did. The best way to learn is to get immediate feedback on both the things that went well during the presentation, and more importantly, the areas in which you can improve. Self-assess your performance, as well, and think about whether you would have tweaked anything in the way you prepared so that you are better positioned for success next time. Because there will be a next time! 

Taking the time to plan ahead and practice will allow you to go into the presentation with confidence and poise. Yes, you might still be nervous, and that’s okay! Know that there will always be room for improvement, and take that feedback to come back even stronger in your next presentation.