Preparing and presenting at Big Meetings
In today’s busy world it is might be tempting to sit down and start writing a presentation, rather than planning it out carefully first. However, in doing so, you run the risk of getting carried away. Instead of a clearly structured and meaningful presentation, you produce one that has lots of seemingly unstructured messages. This is why it is vital that you take time to plan and to identify the key points before you start writing. It is important to check you are clear what you want your audience to take away from your presentation, so that you can focus on making sure you present in the best way possible. This is how you make sure the audience understand and retain key messages and information when you have delivered your presentation.
Once you have drawn up a prioritised short-list of your key points, step two is to structure the speech; to sequence the key points so they make sense. The best way to do this is to imagine you are telling a story.
All speeches should have three parts: a beginning, middle, and end. Structuring the presentation in this way is important because it enables the listener to follow an argument, and more easily understand how the various points fit together.
The task, at the beginning of a speech, is to set out context and themes, to signpost the key points you are going to talk about. The end is equally straightforward. It is to summarise the key points you have made, so they are fresh in the mind of the audience when you finish. This leaves the middle part, which is where the major effort should be focused. Clearly and coherently explain each point you want to make: why it is important, new, relevant, topical, timely etc. to your audience.
Only when the core and important points have been written can you start writing the introduction and summary. All the parts, and all the points, have to be identified before you are ready to bring the whole speech together; to practice delivering it until you get the flow and the timing right. In other words, until you are ready to tell the story.
You should definitely practice delivering a presentation. Everyone can improve their delivery technique, even when you know the subject inside out. Practice will provide you with crucial feedback on the timing of the presentation, and it will help you to identify if there are moments where there is a risk you might lose the audience’s attention. Practice out loud, and record your speech. Listen to how you are speaking. Is it too fast, or too slow? Are you emphasising the main points or missing something out? Speaking out loud also helps you recognise words that sound most natural coming from you. This helps to make a speech personal and more impactful. Practice helps you feel more in control.
Practice will also help you control any presentation anxiety. Everyone has some feelings of trepidation about standing up and presenting in front of others. Anxiety stems from being out of your comfort zone; from the fear of being judged negatively by an audience; and being nervous that, as a consequence of a poor performance, you will not properly convey your knowledge and your message. Therefore, rehearsal helps you practice what you want to say and how you want to say it, so on the day you are fully prepared any nervousness about your delivery doesn’t detract from the main points you want to cover during the presentation itself.
Remember though, that having some nerves is good. It gets the adrenaline running and allows your body and mind to perform faster and more confidently. It helps you to react better to situations that arise during presentations. Feeling nervous is normal!
Now you’ve prepared the presentation and practised it, what are the things to consider on the day? Should you sit down or stand up? Given that this is a big meeting you should stand, if the room allows, because standing gives you a number of advantages.
Firstly, you will probably perform better. Secondly, it is much easier to control the room. Imagine a large meeting room or boardroom with a number of clients sitting on the other side of the table from you and your pitch team (maybe two, three or more colleagues.) Then you stand up. What happens? Immediately everyone in the room notices and focuses on you. This is really important. You grab everyone’s attention straight away, which is precisely what you want to happen, because you want clients to listen to what you are saying. Standing achieves this. In a way, when you stand up, you own the room.
Standing up has other benefits too. It makes it easier to interact with the presentation screen or white board behind you. It provides a degree of freedom to move, so you can explain and emphasise important points. It also allows you to be more expressive, to present with your hands and convey emotions and feelings, because you can use your entire body, not just your voice to get the message across. So if you can, stand up
It’s also very important that your colleagues who are in attendance know their roles on the day. Taking the client team to the presentation can seem a bit mob-handed, but it can make all the difference; after all if the client likes and feels they can work with your team it has got to be an advantage. People buy people, after all.
Another question to consider is who should attend the meeting from your team, and whether everyone attending should also present? The simple answer is no. The main speakers should have something important to say. However, everyone should be there for a reason – perhaps to answer technical questions if required.
In fact, distributing the speaking parts across the team can actually turn, what would have been a good presentation into a rather disjointed and bitty affair. After all one of the attributes of a speaker is passion, and passionate speaking only happens if there is enough time for the speaker to get going. So handing over from one member of the team to the next in a procession, can be disruptive and stop the flow of the presentation in its tracks.
So if you have prepared well, practised extensively and completed a great presentation, what more can you do to win the business?
Never forget the follow up. This is the crucial part in showing the client that you are focused on taking the conversation to the next stage and you want the relationship to develop further. This can even start at the end of the presentation by you asking, or telling, your client that you will follow-up on a specific day or time. The presentation is the also the perfect reason for a follow up – you want to make sure that they have understood the information presented and give them a chance to ask further questions or gain clarity.
Be clear on how you will follow-up (telephone, email, face-to-face) so they are expecting this and can be prepared, and then make sure you schedule it so it happens. A good follow-up will provide a chance to develop deeper relationships with the client which is something you want to do in order to be more relevant to them and to generate more opportunities to work with them in the future..
Points to Remember:
- Take time to plan out the key points you want to make
- Think about the structure of the presentation and ensue it has three parts: a beginning, middle, and an end. Make sure the presentation tells the story you wanted it to
- Practice will provide crucial feedback, a feeling of control and reduce nervousness
- Stand up to present if you can, as this will allow you to control the room and make it easier for you to emphasise the key points you want to make
- Not everyone in the team needs to present, but they do need to know what their role is at the meeting, and to prepare thoroughly in advance
- Take control of the follow-up actions and make sure you implement them