Hello, friends. If you are just joining us for this article, then I recommend that you circle back to its predecessor, “Four Steps to Prepare Your Data for Presentation,” because this is the second half of a two-parter. In article one, Learning and Development Consultant Natalia Kmieć-Braun and I covered the method behind gathering, confirming and prepping data that could have severe consequences in your business and/or field. So, now that we have covered those steps, let’s move on to the other side of the coin, where we advocate for the data.
The second half of this recipe for avoiding catastrophe is all about people — the people we aim to inform and convince to protect those who may be at risk due to product concerns or company policies. Successfully persuading others is a separate field of study, but fortunately, a few simple strategies can be employed for an effective presentation. It is a three-part approach, in which people first need to listen to what you’re saying, receive the necessary and relevant information, and finally understand the next step forward. It is a rather obvious list (of course people need to listen). However, each step has its own complications and traps. So, hopefully, the following tips will make it easier to achieve these objectives.
How to ensure they are listening
Even the best-prepared speech won’t be effective unless the audience actually pays attention to it. And, unfortunately, data-driven presentations are at a disadvantage, as just thinking of them might trigger images of boring spreadsheets, unclear graphs and drifting thoughts.
That said, here are two ways to help keep your audience engaged:
- First, spark interest at the very beginning. Have you found a connection between two seemingly unrelated factors, or do your results contain a shocking statistic? Start with the unexpected tidbit and promise to elaborate later on. Another option is audience involvement, such as asking for a show of hands regarding a relevant (and not pandering) question. Engaged listeners are far more receptive than passive ones.
- Also, be sure to leverage the human factor. By that, we mean showing that you’re not just a stuffy expert, but a relatable human being. People respond to authenticity, so it is a balancing act between displaying our professional expertise and personal interest. Why does this project matter to us? Why are we so invested? And, most importantly, we should be able to clearly explain why this presentation affects our listeners and their interests. The audience instinctively listens if they feel a personal connection with the speaker.
Know what information is necessary and relevant
Once we’ve secured the audience’s attention, it’s time to ensure that they fully understand our message. This requires speaking at the knowledge level of this specific audience. Are they fellow scientists at a conference? Company executives at a high-level meeting? The answer will determine if we start with the basics or go straight to a deep dive.
The second aspect of this strategy is to focus on the data relevant to this audience. While some data might be the same, whether it’s a board meeting or subject matter experts (SME) conference, the presentation should be specifically tailored to the audience’s interest. SMEs will not be as invested in the bottom line and company image as the board members. In the same way, board members are less likely to be intrigued with the advancement of this field — that is, unless it comes with a profit.
The result is that, while the same findings are being shared, these audiences would receive completely different presentations because of their different knowledge base and interest.
Be part of the solution
Personally, there are few things that I find more annoying than people dumping problems in my lap without participating in any level of problem-solving. Let’s not be those people. Instead, when working towards the solution, one presentation strategy involves initially sharing and rejecting alternative solutions. Then we finish with the solution that we are suggesting — which should be a direct call to action. This demonstrates an investment in finding a good solution and is more persuasive, as the very structure of the speech implies that our recommended solution is the optimal one. Also, this call to action should be detailed, stating specific steps that need to be taken (e.g., “use this link within the next 24 hours and register with your e-mail address to receive further instructions”). It is less likely that the presentation will yield the desired results if there isn’t a clear path forward.
Giving presentations is not for the faint of heart. The concept is simple enough — share your findings. Unfortunately, so many things can go wrong between the beginning and the desired end results. However, next time you have to share your findings, we hope these insights make it a little less daunting, and you can change the narrative of that potential disaster story.
Jacquelyn Adams is a storyteller and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, vlogging about the future of work… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.