I have the long held belief that internal audiences are one of the most important and discerning a business presenter will ever face.
Not only do they tick so many of the wish-list boxes you would want from an audience – invested in the topic, (often) known to the presenter and (more often than not) willing to contribute – but the stakes are also gleefully high. A well delivered and powerful internal PowerPoint presentation design can have a seismic impact on an organization – it can act as the catalyst to important change, herald new opportunities and be a clarion call to a team to step up to a whole new level. It’s powerful stuff.
Why then are so many internal presentations the polar opposite of the image above? Why are they so often seen as dull affairs delivered to an audience who mentally checked out 5 minutes into the monologue and now view the presentation as an opportunity to catch up on some sleep? What should be engaging and empowering ends up becoming a time consuming trial for everyone involved.
It’s all rather frustrating and has to stop.
Having had the privilege of working with internal presenters from a wide range of companies for over a decade, I’ve come to a simple conclusion. The perennial issue of lacklustre internal presentations has nothing to do with topic, audience or slideware used and everything to do with the presenter.
Internal presenters have to step up to the plate and recognise that, like it or not, the weight of a great presentation lies on their shoulders. They need to recognise that the buck stops with them and, if the general dire state of internal presentations are going to improve, they are going to have to start doing things differently.
First up, they need to start to THINK about presentations differently.
My own anecdotal study of presentations puts them firmly in the camp of ‘necessary evil’ for many internal communicators. PowerPoint presentation designs are often seen as a task to be cleared off a ‘to do’ list as quickly and efficiently as possible and, while I am in favour of efficiency, the sad truth is that great presentations take time. This means creating a ‘Presentationstein’ PowerPoint deck from bits and pieces borrowed from old presentations is rarely a recipe for success.
Equally not taking the time to think about your audience or your own objectives (‘what is it that you want your audience to do differently as a result of this presentation?’) is a false economy. The result of not taking the time to think and prepare for a presentation properly is a bemused audience…in short, a waste of time and opportunity for everyone involved. And if that isn’t scary enough, just take a moment to think about the actual cost to the business of the time you’ve just taken up (staff do not attend presentations for free). It’s a sobering thought.
Equally internal presenters need to ACT differently.
The well-worn phrase ‘Death by PowerPoint’ is a lazy catch all for all the things that are wrong with most presentations. While many blame PowerPoint for dumbing down presentations (a strange line to take – it’s akin to blaming drunk driving on car manufacturers) the reality is that most of these ills are down to people sleep walking their way through the process. It is incumbent on presenters to take ownership of their presentations – from the clarity of the message through to working out what content is valuable (and, perhaps more importantly, what content clutter can be dropped). Far too many presenters obsess about the look and feel of their slides – which template? Which font? Sourcing the ‘perfect’ image – and give the important stuff like messaging little more than a cursory glance.
My advice? Get the basics right and stop obsessing about how pretty your slides are until you’ve figured out quite what it is you want to say!
Finally, internal presenters need to loosen up a little and start to DELIVER differently.
Much to my frustration (and that of many audiences), most presenter’s default setting is thinking in terms of slideware (PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi). It’s now common business parlance to refer to a pile of slides as ‘the presentation’, thus relegating the presenter to the role of support act or narrator. Sadly, audiences now expect to be led into a darkened room, illuminated by nothing more than a projector – the perfect venue for a snooze.
Internal presenters need to think beyond the norm and put their audience’s requirements foremost in their mind. So if you’re presenting to a small audience, step away from the slideware (and the inevitable one-way delivery) and make it more interactive by supporting your well thought through message with simple visuals on a flip chart. It will encourage interaction with the audience, allow you to test understanding and buy-in and, the cherry on the cake, force you to think carefully about the message, content and visuals you are delivering in the first place.
So think beyond the constraints of PowerPoint and, with your audience first and foremost in your mind, look at alternative ways to deliver your message in a clearer and more engaging way.
In summary, internal presentations are too valuable an opportunity for presenters to squander. The bad news is that a fresh approach to this most important form of internal comms is massively overdue in many organisations. The good news is that small changes can have a huge effect.
Now it’s your turn.