28 April 2011

Tips On Giving Presentations

Communication skills are a critical part of a project leader's professional competency. Project leaders who fail to hone their ability to give a compelling briefing or write a cogent paper are dropping the ball on one of their key responsibilities and most important skill sets. A project leader who doesn't communicate well is like a vampire who's afraid of the dark.

Look, everyone doesn't have to be a dazzling speaker or writer, but we all must put forth effort to up our game when it comes to giving presentations and writing papers.

Here are a few thoughts towards that end:
Read Garr Reynolds' book Presentation Zen. And his blog. Then read them again.
If your presentation is dull, you're doing it wrong. And I mean that in both senses of the word wrong (incorrect & immoral) 
To be even clearer: being dull is a sin, a crime, a theft and an assault. Don't waste people's most precious irreplaceable resource - time - with droning messages that don't convey anything useful and that beg to be tuned out. 
Prepare. 'Nuff said. 
PowerPoint isn't the problem. PowerPoint's defaults are the problem. Reject them with great enthusiasm. 
You have my permission to be interesting. You do not have my permission to waste my time. 
 When giving a presentation, don't be the only guy in the room who doesn't know how much time you have left. 


Patrick K. Barker said...


I have seen your stuff over the years and always resonated with it. Plus you are an Air Force guy.

And despite the fact that you allow Glen Alleman to follow you on this blog (actually Glen's a great guy and we have very similar philosophical approach but perhaps he might see his name here, respond in kind, and you'd have a discussion going) it is time I do so as well.

I would only add to your comments by saying this:

In reporting or presenting, I do not let the audience go into passive receive mode. Ever. You can bet 8 times out of 10 they are thinking of something a lot more fun than listening to you or especially your take on cost variance "a" or critical path trend "b" ... Break that mode, ask direct questions to confirm or clarify what you just said. Better yet, place two in the position of having opposite takes of your point without them realizing it.

I've done that before -- EVM is a great source for this especially in terms of "schedule variance" since the EVM version of 'schedule' is radically different than what a real schedule contains -- where I do the traditional "make eye contact as if you are having a conversation 1 on 1" thing, make a point, get the affirmative head bob or other signal of acceptance ... then move on and repeat with another with a slight variation.

At that point you appear confused and 'want to make sure we are all saying the same thing.' It brings the two individuals coldly out of fantasy-land and the rest of the audience perks up b/c the rhythm is broken.

I really became aware of this passive dynamic when I taught at the AF Academy (History & airmanship). During my recurring lectures each semester on Gettysburg, I'd have a slide in there about the success of Pickett's charge and subsequent rout of the Federal Army back down Baltimore Pike .. sometimes adding the creation of a temporary Confederate state in southwest Pennsylvania. ... over half of them would be mechanically writing every word down as if it came down from the mountain.

I even got bold upon occasion and verbally slipped in the use of early B-52A models ... that was usually enough for most to look up quizzically ... most of them, but not all.

Great blog - best wishes

(PS: I'm starting to enter the writing realm ... 1st article on key leaders in March/April Defense AT&L mag)


Pat Barker
Director at MCR,LLC &
Adjunct Professor at American University

The Dan Ward said...

Thanks so much for the comment, Pat! Glad to have you aboard!

I love the observation about avoiding audience passivity... that's something I've done without really giving it a label, and I plan to be more deliberate about it from now on.

And apparently Glen hasn't stopped by RPL today... :)