Creating a tight, logical presentation is a serious challenge. There is often an enormous amount of data to analyze and interpret, and crafting the story can be hard. Even gifted presenters find this a demanding task.
The basics, however, are not that complicated. Doing even a few easy things can improve your presentations dramatically. Here is some simple advice: make sure every one of your presentations has these five things.
A presentation should begin with a title page. The title page should have the title, of course, and the date of the talk.
In most cases, the title will be crisp and clear, such as “Summer 2019 Promotion Plan Recommendation.” If the presentation is super-secret, the title might have a code name, perhaps “Project Spud Q3 Update.” Project Spud was actually the name of a top-secret project I once worked on at Kraft Food (since this was years ago, I can tell you that Project Spud was an initiative to launch three new products: potato salad dressing, tuna salad dressing and coleslaw).
Speakers often leave off the date of the talk but this is a mistake, since many presentations can be made about a single project.
In many cases, the title page should include the names of the presenters; this will help if there are questions afterwards. In most companies, people are always moving around, receiving promotions and shifting positions. If you include the names of the presenters, people won’t be wondering later on, “Who did that presentation, anyway?”
Start the presentation with a clear statement of purpose. What is the goal of the meeting? This should be clear, so the audience knows exactly what is going on. “Decide on summer promotion plan” is obvious. It means a decision has to be made. “Review latest new product results” communicates that the meeting is just an update.
If you don’t have a purpose, you shouldn’t be presenting at all; just cancel the meeting and free up the time. People are busy.
You should always have an executive summary. On one page, lay out your key points. The headline might state, “We recommend entering the Singapore market,” with supporting points: “Singapore is a growing market,” “the financials are attractive” and “the risks are low.”
An executive summary makes it clear to everyone in the room what is happening. It lets your audience get oriented. Those who agree with the recommendation might relax or tune out; others who are opposed will perk up, and this is all helpful.
In most cases, the executive summary will include the recommendation. You only want to obscure the recommendation if you are quite confident that your audience will oppose it; in that case, you might need to build to the recommendation rather than presenting it at the outset.
An agenda is another critical piece of a presentation, but one that speakers often omit. There are two reasons to have an agenda. First, it is helpful for your audience; they will know what to expect and in what order, and this will put everyone at ease. If you will be discussing risks at the end, there is no need to ask about them early in the presentation. They are coming up later.
Second, the agenda helps the presenter. It provides a map of the presentation, and this will keep you on track. It is tough to get lost when the agenda keeps popping up, pulling you back to your story.
There should be several items on an agenda; you can’t have one with just one or two. That looks ridiculous. At the same time, you can’t have twenty items, because that will seem overwhelming.
The end of a presentation is important; you want to finish strong. So conclude a presentation with two things: a quick summary of what you have covered and the next steps to be taken.
The summary could be the executive summary; you can just repeat the page. This bookending provides a nice, tight structure for the presentation. It simply taps into the framework we learned in grade school: What I’m going to say, what I’m saying, and what I just said.
Including these five elements won’t guarantee that your presentations will all go smoothly, but they provide a solid foundation. I’m always amazed at the number of presentations I review that lack one or more of these elements. Pay attention and you’ll probably see the same dynamic at work.