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5 Key Questions When Planning Your Presentation (Presentation Masterclass – Part 2)

5 Key Questions When Planning Your Presentation (Presentation Masterclass – Part 2)
Typical presentation process

    Part 1 of this series is here.

    Let’s just reiterate our starting position here:

    MOST PRESENTATIONS SUUUUUUUUUCK!

    This happens at all stages of the life-cycle of a presentation, but if your base preparation is below par, then no amount of shiny graphics and animation will save you – sucky foundation, sucky presentation.

    To rise above the background noise of a zillion average-to-bad presentations, here are a handful of key questions to ask yourself as you put your thoughts together:

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    • Do I really need to present?
    • What do I want to occur as a result?
    • What is the mindset of my audience?
    • How am I going to structure my points?
    • Do I need to use visual aids?

    There are other questions of course, but these are the cornerstones.

    1. Do I really need to Present?
    Is gathering these people in a room and talking to them, with or without visual aids, the best way of imparting this information to this group of people? When I lecture on this topic, I facetiously suggest using anything from Pony Express to Skywriting to get your message across – precisely because as McLuhan said, in many cases the medium is the message.

    Would you be better off with six people sitting around a coffee table discussing some hefty tome of a report? How about a massive brainstorming session with 200 people with Post-it notes and lots of gophers. Maybe get your whole team down on a beach and the person with the conch shell gets to speak. Take your pick, but if your audience thinks you’ve got nothing of relevance to say, or that this is yet another ego trip by a manager with a PowerPoint fetish, no tool is going to help you.

    2. What do I want to occur as a result?
    If there is no call to action, there probably shouldn’t be a presentation. Even if your talk is purely informative, what do you want your audience to do with that knowledge? People need interpretation, not narration, and that is why you are up there. Tell them the data, tell them what you think it means and then get a discussion going on what you should all do about that.

    The starting point here is to define what constitutes a good outcome. If you’re a fairytale princess, it’s all about a castle and a handsome prince on a big white horse and everyone living happily ever after. In real life, it’s rarely that defined. Does the horse actually need to be white? At a pinch, would a truck do? Do you really need to be happy ever after, or just to end of this financial reporting period?

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    Get clear. Really clear. What do you want them to do after your presentation? If you have no strong answer to that question, then you need to revisit question 1 again.

    3. What is the Mindset of my Audience?
    This is the big one, because it is only if you can catch a glimpse into your audience’s mind, that you have the possibility of changing that mind. Who are these people? Why have you been asked to talk to them? What, as a group, is their disposition? What about key individuals within that group? Are some of them more dominant or influential than others? What are their beliefs? Are they right or wrong? Are they open to hearing that they don’t possess all the facts? Do you have hard evidence to present to them or just strong opinions – and which are they more likely to respond to?

    Say you are making two presentations on the same day about equality issues and sexual harassment in the workplace. Your first audience is a bunch of late middle-aged, white, suit-wearing, male executives. You discover from your research that half of them belong to the same golf club – and that club does not admit women as full members. Your second audience are the founders and senior execs of a Web 2.0 company. Average age is late 20s, a third of the audience are women and the place has a reputation for being a meritocracy. Do you deliver the same presentation, with the same content, case studies and tone? What would happen if you tried?

    4. How am I Going to Structure my Points?
    Try telling a child a bedtime story without a beginning-middle-end structure and see how far you get. You will be interrupted every five seconds. “Who is this princess?” “What spell?” There’s a wolf? where did he come from?” “Why would a stepmother do that?”

    Bad storytelling is beginning, muddle, end. (Philip Larkin)

    From the earliest age, we learn to take information on board sequentially. The poet Philip Larkin once said that bad storytelling is “beginning, muddle, end” and so it is for far too many presentations.

    What do you want your audience to do after you sit down? What is your point? How many elements do you need to break it down into in order to ram that message home? This is rarely a question of what you know, it’s a question of what do they need to know as a result of listening to you? That requires multiple drafts. One of the hardest things to do in compiling a presentation is to let your data go …

    You: “So there you have it. 66% of respondents preferred XX and that means 1 and 2 and 3.”
    Audience: “So what? You had me at 66%” OR “So what? 2 and 3 haven’t been relevant in this sector for over five years now!”

    Identify your audience’s trigger-points and build the anchors of your presentation around those. Place them in the order that is most compelling to that audience. Provide context at the beginning as necessary. And when you think you are finished drafting, distill it just a little more …

    5. Do I Need to Use Visual Aids?
    To PowerPoint or not to PowerPoint – that is another important question. Either way, I have found that the best way to start putting your presentation together is to stay away from your computer – and in particular from your presentation software. Talk to yourself in your car as if you were addressing this audience. Jot ideas down, or Dictaphone them as they occur to you. Capture little nuggets and phrases and thoughts. When you have the bones of your talk collated, lay out your story on paper. Then you can decide if imagery, or charts, or tables, will facilitate your audience’s comprehension, acceptance and retention of this information.

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    If your ideas require graphs to explain them, or to prove their validity, then yes, you may need Slideware to put them across. But if your audience consists of lay-people, you may be better simply vocalising the result: “We ran a series of tests on this and in each case the XX was preferred by two-thirds of the audience when compared to the YY.” Do we really need to see 14 charts which do nothing more than reiterate that sentence over and over?

    Frequently presenters use Slideware because they lack confidence at some basic level – their slides are used as a roadmap, a shield or an AutoCue. If you are the expert, and you have credibility, then your audience will accept that 66% of people prefer XX over YY; you don’t need to sledgehammer the point home with your 14 colourful charts.

    Presenters who do this are usually missing the point. Okay, the data tell us that 66% of people prefer XX. So what? What do you want me to do with that information? That should be the focus of your talk, not getting mired down in p-values and confidence levels. That’s what handouts are for: “I’ve briefly summarised the data for you this morning, and you can find the age and socio-economic breakdown of the respondents in the handout. What we need to talk about now are the implications of these findings for our manufacturing facility.”

    If all you want to put on your slides are words, then it’s really time to stop and think. PowerPoint is not an AutoCue, no matter how many presenters you have seen using it that way. Nor should it be a crutch-like roadmap for you as a presenter; you either know your stuff or you don’t. So let’s assume you do know your stuff, would you be better off just talking to this audience? Because if your slides are all words, I would ask do you need to meet them at all (question 1 again!) or could you simply email them your thoughts in a Word document? Look at Ken Robinson on TED – no slides, no barriers, between him and the audience; just a beautifully thought out, beautifully expressed talk. Compelling. Memorable. Effective. Affective.

    Focus on your purpose, your message and your audience and you won’t go far wrong. Once you are clear on those, the details of tools and delivery will become apparent.

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    Part 1 of this series is here.

    Next – Shaping your presentation

    More by this author

    5 Key Questions When Planning Your Presentation (Presentation Masterclass – Part 2) Presentation Masterclass – Part 1: Introduction Guy Kawasaki’s Thoughts on Online Life Where am I going? Putting your life in context. Communication 101

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    Last Updated on March 14, 2019

    7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

    7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

    Recruiters might hold thousands of interviews in their careers and a lot of them are reporting the same thing—that most candidates play it safe with the questions they ask, or have no questions to ask in a job interview at all.

    For job applicants, this approach is crazy! This is a job that you’re going to dedicate a lot of hours to and that might have a huge impact on your future career. Don’t throw away the chance to figure out if the position is perfect for you.

    Here are 7 killer questions to ask in a job interview that will both impress your counterpart and give you some really useful insights into whether this job will be a dream … or a nightmare.

    1. What are some challenges I might come up against this role?

    A lesser candidate might ask, “what does a typical day look like in this role?” While this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask in an interview, focusing on potential challenges takes you much further because it indicates that you already are visualizing yourself in the role.

    It’s impressive because it shows that you are not afraid of challenges, and you are prepared to strategize a game plan upfront to make sure you succeed if you get the job.

    It can also open up a conversation about how you’ve solved problems in the past which can be a reassuring exercise for both you and the hiring manager.

    How it helps you:

    If you ask the interviewer to describe a typical day, you may get a vibrant picture of all the lovely things you’ll get to do in this job and all the lovely people you’ll get to do them with.

    Asking about potential roadblocks means you hear the other side of the story—dysfunctional teams, internal politics, difficult clients, bootstrap budgets and so on. This can help you decide if you’re up for the challenge or whether, for the sake of your sanity, you should respectfully decline the job offer.

    2. What are the qualities of really successful people in this role?

    Employers don’t want to hire someone who goes through the motions; they want to hire someone who will excel.

    Asking this question shows that you care about success, too. How could they not hire you with a dragon-slayer attitude like that?

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    How it helps you:

    Interviewers hire people who are great people to work with, but the definition of “great people” differs from person to person.

    Does this company hire and promote people with a specific attitude, approach, worth ethic or communication style? Are the most successful people in this role strong extroverts who love to talk and socialize when you are studious and reserved? Does the company reward those who work insane hours when you’re happiest in a more relaxed environment?

    If so, then this may not be the right match for you.

    Whatever the answer is, you can decide whether you have what it takes for the manager to be happy with your performance in this role. And if the interviewer has no idea what success looks like for this position, this is a sign to proceed with extreme caution.

    3. From the research I did on your company, I noticed the culture really supports XYZ. Can you tell me more about that element of the culture and how it impacts this job role?

    Of course, you could just ask “what is the culture like here? ” but then you would miss a great opportunity to show that you’ve done your research!

    Interviewers give BIG bonus point to those who read up and pay attention, and you’ve just pointed out that (a) you’re diligent in your research (b) you care about the company culture and (c) you’re committed to finding a great cultural fit.

    How it helps you:

    This question is so useful because it lets you pick an element of the culture that you really care about and that will have the most impact on whether you are happy with the organization.

    For example, if training and development is important to you, then you need to know what’s on offer so you don’t end up in a dead-end job with no learning opportunities.

    Companies often talk a good talk, and their press releases may be full of shiny CSR initiatives and all the headline-grabbing diversity programs they’re putting in place. This is your opportunity to look under the hood and see if the company lives its values on the ground.

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    A company that says it is committed to doing the right thing by customers should not judge success by the number of up-sells an employee makes, for instance. Look for consistency, so you aren’t in for a culture shock after you start.

    4. What is the promotion path for this role, and how would my performance on that path be measured?

    To be clear, you are not asking when you will get promoted. Don’t go there—it’s presumptuous, and it indicates that you think you are better than the role you have applied for.

    A career-minded candidate, on the other hand, usually has a plan that she’s working towards. This question shows you have a great drive toward growth and advancement and an intention to stick with the company beyond your current state.

    How it helps you:

    One word: hierarchy.

    All organizations have levels of work and authority—executives, upper managers, line managers, the workforce, and so on. Understanding the hierarchical structure gives you power, because you can decide if you can work within it and are capable of climbing through its ranks, or whether it will be endlessly frustrating to you.

    In a traditional pyramid hierarchy, for example, the people at the bottom tend to have very little autonomy to make decisions. This gets better as you rise up through the pyramid, but even middle managers have little power to create policy; they are more concerned with enforcing the rules the top leaders make.

    If having a high degree of autonomy and accountability is important to you, you may do better in a flat hierarchy where work teams can design their own way of achieving the corporate goals.

    5. What’s the most important thing the successful candidate could accomplish in their first 3 months/6 months/year?

    Of all the questions to ask in a job interview, this one is impressive because it shows that you identify with and want to be a successful performer, and not just an average one.

    Here, you’re drilling down into what the company needs, and needs quite urgently, proving that you’re all about adding value to the organization and not just about what’s in it for you.

    How it helps you:

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    Most job descriptions come with 8, 10 or 12 different job responsibilities and a lot of them with be boilerplate or responsibilities that someone in HR thinks are associated with this role. This question gives you a better sense of which responsibilities are the most important—and they may not be what initially attracted you to the role.

    If you like the idea of training juniors, for example, but success is judged purely on your sales figures, then is this really the job you thought you were applying for?

    This question will also give you an idea of what kind of learning curve you’re expected to have and whether you’ll get any ramp-up time before getting down to business. If you’re the type of person who likes to jump right in and get things done, for instance, you may not be thrilled to hear that you’re going to spend the first three months shadowing a peer.

    6. What do you like about working here?

    This simple question is all about building rapport with the interviewer. People like to talk about themselves, and the interviewer will be flattered that you’re interested in her opinions.

    Hopefully, you’ll find some great connection points that the two of you share. What similar things drive you head into the office each day? How will you fit into the culture?

    How it helps you:

    You can learn a lot from this question. Someone who genuinely enjoys his job will be able to list several things they like, and their answers will sound passionate and sincere. If not….well, you might consider that a red flag.

    Since you potentially can learn a lot about the company culture from this question, it’s a good idea to figure out upfront what’s important to you. Maybe you’re looking for a hands-off boss who values independent thought and creativity? Maybe you work better in environments that move at a rapid, exciting pace?

    Whatever’s important to you, listen carefully and see if you can find any common ground.

    7. Based on this interview, do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications for the role?

    What a great closing question to ask in a job interview! It shows that you’re not afraid of feedback—in fact, you are inviting it. Not being able to take criticism is a red flag for employers, who need to know that you’ll act on any “coaching moments” with a good heart.

    As a bonus, asking this question shows that you are really interested in the position and wish to clear up anything that may be holding the company back from hiring you.

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    How it helps you:

    What a devious beast this question is! On the surface, it looks straightforward, but it’s actually giving you four key pieces of information.

    First, is the manager capable of giving you feedback when put on the spot like this? Some managers are scared of giving feedback, or don’t think it’s important enough to bother outside of a formal performance appraisal. Do you want to work for a boss like that? How will you improve if no one is telling you what you did wrong?

    Second, can the manager give feedback in a constructive way without being too pillowy or too confrontational? It’s unfair to expect the interviewer to have figured out your preferred way of receiving feedback in the space of an interview, but if she come back with a machine-gun fire of shortcomings or one of those corporate feedback “sandwiches” (the doozy slipped between two slices of compliment), then you need to ask yourself, can you work with someone who gives feedback like that?

    Third, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about before you leave the interview. This gives you the chance to make a final, tailored sales pitch so you can convince the interviewer that she should not be worried about those things.

    Fourth, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about period. If turnover is keeping him up at night, then your frequent job hopping might get a lot of additional scrutiny. If he’s facing some issues with conflict or communication, then he might raise concerns regarding your performance in this area.

    Listen carefully: the concerns that are being raised about you might actually be a proxy for problems in the wider organization.

    Making Your Interview Work for You

    Interviews are a two-way street. While it is important to differentiate yourself from every other candidate, understand that convincing the interviewer you’re the right person for the role goes hand-in-hand with figuring out if the job is the right fit for you.

    Would you feel happy in a work environment where the people, priorities, culture and management style were completely at odds with the way you work? Didn’t think so!

    More Resources About Job Interviews

    Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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