How to present your work at a business meeting

November 9th, 2011 meeting with Jenny Schmitt, CloudSpark

Okay, Cubicle Warriors, here’s the deal: Your manager just gave you the assignment to speak to an all-department (or all-hands!) meeting to describe an initiative that you’re working on for the team. Worse, you get to explain everything in ten minutes.

Gulp.

You’ve seen these presentations, haven’t you. PowerPoint slide after PowerPoint slide (or Keynote!) with death by a thousand bullet points. And a speaker to match. Five slides planned out — per minute! And a presentation that goes for twenty minutes and is, quite frankly, boring as hell.

Well, you can do this — and make it semi-interesting to boot. Well, as interesting as a corporate presentation can be, of course. All it takes is to follow the four steps outlined here. And follow one rule.

Let’s take a look.

The One Rule

Here’s the primary rule: The shorter the time to speak, the higher the level of information given. If you have an hour, you can talk about 27 things or something. You don’t talk about 27 things with ten minutes to present; you talk about five. Or less.

The shorter the time to speak, the higher the level of information given.

The four steps

1. Provide the goal(s) for the work

You can’t just stand up and start talking about what the work is about. No one — especially to people outside the department — knows what the work is much less the goal of the work. Nor will they spend any time trying to figure it out from your presentation.

So spell it out: The goal of this work is to improve the cycle time for delivery of the widget product to the customer from five days to two days.

Now the audience can tell where you are trying to get to with the work.

If you only have ten minutes, give them just the highest level measurable goal. If you have an hour, you can give them a few smaller goals as well. The goal portion of the presentation, though, should be one of the shorter elements of your talk. Not the majority.

2. Tell the story of reaching the goal

As I tell people in my SMART Goals and Performance Review products, every goal has a story. It has to have a story — how will you reach the goal? Managers don’t just throw a goal out there; they think they have a way to reach that goal that is both reasonable and attainable.

Your obligation in your presentation, then, is to tell this story about how you plan to achieve the goal. The story is the interesting part of the presentation. The story is what ties the work activity to the business result of the goal.

Will you interview 100 customers to discover what would make your process better? What examples from the interviews pertain here?

Will you upgrade your current IT system to the latest version to get the whiz-bang features you’ve been missing? Boring, unless you can tie that feature to how it will make your work better and easier.

The hero’s journey is the classic story of our time — and your story about your work as well. Describe your work as a hero’s journey and your presentation will be well-received.

Every goal has a story. Tell yours.

3. What is the current status?

If you’re done with your work, tell the results. If you are still in the middle — or beginning — of the work, tell your status.

“We’ve interviewed 25 of the 100 customers planned” and discovered exciting things.

“We’ve negotiated the upgrade contract and are currently gathering requirements to help our customers get quicker delivery.”

If you have an hour, spend more time on status. If you have ten minutes, talk about the big deliverable and where you are in the timeline and be done.

4. Tell people how they can help

Help is a good thing. Especially if you can get additional helps from the people you are doing the presentation for. Help them connect with how they can help you complete your work — and help themselves at the same time.

Will this work make their life at work easier? Then explain what they can do to help you help them.

Will this work help them help their customer? Show them what they can do to help get them to that point.

You need the call to action to engage the audience at the end. And no one does this in those ten-minute presentations. It’s a big miss.

The big ending

In the end, you know, the audience wants you to stay on schedule (“I’m like soooooo ready for lunch; would you please shut up!”) and not be boring. Honestly, the audience’s expectations in these big group meetings is very low. There are low expectations here because most of the presentations go over the time limits and have five thousand bullet points in them.

Did I say they were boring? Yes, that too.

So tell them the goal of the work, tell the story of how you are reaching that goal, give them a quick status of where you are in that story, and provide them concrete ways they can help themselves by helping you in your work.

Your coworkers will love you for it.

What’s the best — and worst — business presentation you’ve heard at work?

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