Writing Assistance, Inc.

Use Your L&D Savvy to Give Great Presentations!

by Sue Plaster, M.Ed.

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The meeting notice arrives in your Friday email and there you are, listed as a presenter the following week. The audience – your organization’s top leadership! Oh well, at least you have the weekend and Monday to prepare! It’s a nice opportunity of course, and time for you to be in your best form as a presenter. Before you start getting butterflies in your stomach about this pending presentation, let’s review. Your experience in learning and development gives you wonderful ability to make great presentations! You bring strong assets as a presenter. And, there are steps you can take to shine even more brightly when you get your time in the sun! Let’s explore ways to tie your unique skills as a learning and development professional to the techniques that make presentations even more effective.

Your Assets

  1. You understand how to apply adult learning styles to your preparation. You know how to plan ahead for those who learn better in a mini-lecture format, as well as accommodating those who prefer to learn by experimenting, and those who need a combination of styles.
  2. You understand that visuals and media are often needed to support a presentation. You recognize that the choice of multimedia support for your presentation depends on the corporate culture as well as the degree of interest, the functions and the organizational levels of your audience.
  3. You know how to pull listeners in. As adult learners, your colleagues retain learning best when it involves more of the senses, and when it connects to their prior experience. Yes, you will bring evidence and data. You’ll also bring provocative questions, memorable stories and pithy examples to help your audience connect to your subject.
  4. You know how important it is to set the stage. You are more than willing to check out the workshop venue or lecture hall in advance to find out how seats will be positioned, what mikes will be on hand, and where the AV support will be. As an educator, you get down to basics when needed, to make sure everything is aligned to support your presentation.

Steps You Can Take

All that said, here are some ideas you can put into play the next time you are asked to speak, whether to a large or a small group, whether it’s introducing another speaker or presenting on your own. Even if you know all of this already, it’s possible you may have become a “sloppy presenter” over time, as many of us have, relying too heavily on our PowerPoints to carry the day, when really it’s our presentation skills and energy that we need to power up.
      1. Be clear on purpose. Having clear goals for your time with your audience can heighten impact. Let’s say your talk on Tuesday is an introduction of a member of your team, Ben Jones, who will be presenting an important proposal. Is your goal really just to introduce Ben to the group? Couldn’t they just read his bio if that were the case? Or is your real purpose to add energy to the room, to get people excited to hear Ben speak, and to put your own sponsorship behind his proposal? Once your purpose is clear, you will be more impactful. Never take the stage without knowing your purpose.
      2. Schedule time for preparation. Many of us grew up with the mantra that one should always dress for the next job level that we aspire to. When you are scheduled to present to a group, I encourage you to think about presenting at the next level in the organization. How do people at the next level up in your organization conduct themselves as presenters? Some would call this paying attention to “executive presence,” well worth considering if you want to influence your audience to take action, to think differently about a problem or to understand something in a different way. “Executive presence” means coming across as a leader, as one who is likely to be followed. For a great YouTube video on the subject of speaking with executive presence, I refer you to Joan Moser, President of the Minneapolis-based firm, Spoken Impact, who demonstrates executive presence in this brief video segment.
      3. Research the audience in detail. Never assume you know the audience so well that you can skip this step. Who’ll be attending that day? What is their interest in your topic? How ready are they to hear what you want to say? What might be distracting them right now? Would any advance materials help prepare the way for your presentation? Are there undercurrents in the team or in the organization that will impact how your presentation is received? Are there potential advocates, supporters, or even naysayers who will be in the room, and is it wise to brief them beforehand? Should your presentation plan be modified in any way based on what you now know about the audience?
      4. Plan ahead for your deliveryactually rehearse. Talk to your mirror, or enlist a colleague or two to be your sample audience. You can even challenge them to play the roles of key people who will be in the room when you present for real! It’s not enough to have all your PowerPoints in hand and your handouts printed out – you need to know how it will sound to deliver your presentation, and where you will work examples, stories and anecdotes into your talk.  What segues come naturally, and what seems disjointed? What about gestures and vocal variety? These discoveries are what come with rehearsal.
      5. Take steps to guarantee interaction — don’t just hope for it. I enjoy highly interactive presentations. I love giving them, and I love attending them. I also know that it takes planning to make interactivity happen. Here are some ideas to promote interaction for your presentations.Let your audience know you want them involved.
        • Show enjoyment when people do participate.
        • Move around the room because your physical activity will energize the group to participate.
        • Ask intriguing questions that evoke emotions as well as thoughts. Start with easy questions and move to more taxing ones.
        And we are right back to knowing your audience! Think through what you know about the audience and what you have seen or heard about their likelihood to interact. Are there any reasons why they may not want to speak? If they are mostly introverts and won’t want to speak in a large group, find a way to divide the group during the interactive portion, for example.
      6. Plan your support materials through storyboarding or an outline technique so they truly support your presentation and don’t detract from it. When in doubt, pare it down so that your listeners are paying attention to you and to one another. People are infinitely more interesting than printed materials or PowerPoints.
      7. Follow up afterward. What’s next? Who do you need to thank? Who asked a great question that invites you to follow up in a 1:1 conversation?  Maybe there would be a benefit to sending an action report detailing what will happen next, or an article or summary that helps advance the learning and discussion that took place. Maybe you need to connect with whoever manages meeting notes to be sure any necessary materials from you make it into that packet. Whatever your follow-up activities or actions may be, they derive from your initial purpose, and they carry forward your reputation as a thoughtful, effective presenter.
Enjoy your moment in the sun! And, enjoy preparing for it! Use your assets as a learning leader to give a presentation that accomplishes your goals as well as demonstrating how much you bring to your organization.

About the Author

Sue Plaster holds a master’s degree in education from the University of Minnesota, with a focus in leadership development. She advises individuals in job search, career transition and onboarding, and consults with organizations on diversity, succession planning and leadership development. Sue’s corporate career includes communications and human resources roles with the Fairview Health System, Honeywell Inc. and Boston Scientific. You can connect with Sue through Writing Assistance, Inc. at www.writingassist.com or sales@writingassist.com.