Going back to my FedEx years, there was a situation where one of my systems had failed an internal audit and the business senior VP and I were summoned to the Memphis headquarters on a Sunday evening to report our corrective actions to the board's audit committee, headed by Sen. George Mitchell. Being called before Sen. Mitchell and the board was intimidating, even as experienced as I was.
I had my three-slide presentation ready, and it was in the board materials. The senior VP and I sat outside the boardroom for what seemed like forever before we were called in. The boardroom was empty! The entire board was at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C., for a football game and the audit committee was on the phone. I listed the corrective actions we were taking, Sen. Mitchell said something to the effect of "sounds good," and the entire meeting lasted less than a minute. But I have no doubt that if the presentation and slides had not been structured properly and I had tried to go into the history of the audit before giving my actions, the call would have been almost as short but the tone would have been much different.
Providing a quick read is also important, especially if your organization distributes slide presentations as a pre-read. There were nights when I would receive more than a hundred pages of PowerPoint pre-reads for the next day. Only if the slides were structured correctly was it possible to be familiar with all the presentations.
A properly structured slide has four parts: a brief title; a topic sentence or two that summarizes the information; the body, which can be as complex as required; and an optional takeaway sentence at the bottom, which often serves as a transition to the next slide. A reader should be able to read the title, topic sentence, and any takeaways and understand the presentation.
Every communication expert will tell you there are good ways to say something and bad ways. The bad way is to use words that have strongly negative connotations. People have a tendency to hear and repeat controversial or inflammatory words even in the context of a positive message. Remember that when making a business presentation, you can't avoid being evaluated yourself. Take the opportunity to show your leadership, knowing that everyone prefers a positive attitude in leaders.
4. Get professional help. No, not a psychiatrist, but a pro who can coach you on basic presentation skills. My personal preference is Spaeth Communications out of Dallas, but any class that uses video to record and critique you is a great start. Even the impressive and effective Rob Carter uses professionals to help him refine his presentation skills.
Business presentations are a reality of corporate life, and how effectively you get your points communicated will have a direct bearing on your potential for senior leadership. The above fundamentals will only get you going in the right direction. There's no substitute for training, practice, and the hard work of refining your message.
Dr. Larry Tieman has been a senior VP at FedEx, a CIO, or a CTO for the last 20 years. He has worked with some of the great CIOs, including Max Hopper, Charlie Feld, and Rob Carter. He can be reached at [email protected].
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