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YOUR CAREER

How to deliver a great presentation on any topic

To grow in the job, a manager has to communicate ideas and visions and recommendations.

And the presentation of them counts. “It doesn’t matter how good the idea or how brilliant the insight, if it isn’t well-articulated, it fails,” says Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE, a San Francisco executive speech coach. Worse, the manager’s career can fail right along with it.

Here are the bones of a good presentation.

Walk in with an outline

Never wing it. Plan it out.

Preparation shows, Fripp says. It’s obvious when somebody is following an outline, and the very fact that there is an outline gives credibility to what’s said. What’s more, an outline gives the manager the confidence to present the proposal with conviction.

On the outline, give a succinct definition of what the proposal is: My proposal is that we buy new software to provide support in the billing department.

Lay out the reasons for the proposal, showing the benefits in terms of how it will improve the office’s ability to provide service or increase revenues, for example. Then summarize and plan to ask for questions.

Blow off the opposition early

Prepare for resistance. The reasons supporting the proposal aren’t enough; anticipate what the objections will be and address them before they are made.

For example, I’m recommending we move to this new billing system. The reasons are A, B, and C. Then hit whatever opposition is likely to come up, perhaps, Obviously, this is more expensive than what we budgeted for. And address it: But the return on investment will cover that in two months.

Get the opposition out of the way so nobody has time to mull over it during the rest of the presentation.

Also effective is to show support from someone in or related to the office, perhaps, I have discussed this with our accountant, and she says it’s a good investment because X.

Give statistics and tell stories

Support the proposal with statistics as well as examples of how it’s benefited other offices.

It’s not enough to say, Adding this new billing software will increase our profitability. Nobody is going to swallow that. People want specifics such as, I estimate that this new software will increase our profitability by a minimum of 18%. And be prepared for someone to ask how you came up with your statistics.

Numbers scream credibility, Fripp says, and the best numbers show that the value of the proposal is greater than its expense.

Support your proposal further with stories of how other offices have seen success with the proposed solution. But, says Fripp, to make the stories effective, mention real people and real places. For example: If you were to walk into Office X’s billing department, you’d be impressed to see such-and-such. Or, A friend in an Ohio office says they moved to this software three months ago and have already increased revenues by X%.

Five rules for good presenting

Then there’s the presentation itself, and Fripp gives these pointers.

1. Put the punch at the end

The punch words and statements need strategic placement.

These are the words and phrases that convey the most important thoughts—the things you want the lawyers to remember. To get them noticed and remembered, put them at the end of a sentence.

What’s in the middle of a sentence tends to get lost, Fripp explains. For example, in We are looking forward to your recommendation on this report today, the punch word, or the word people need to remember is recommendation. Far more effective is, We are looking forward to your recommendation.

Another example: Thank you for the opportunity to present my proposal this morning. The punch words are my proposal, and the words this morning “just killed their impact.”

2. Delete the useless words

Take out any words that aren’t necessary to convey the message. They’re debris. They have no value. They clutter up the message. They put people to sleep.

Fripp gives this example: I want to thank each and every one of you for attending this presentation today.

Take out each and every one of you and today, and what’s left is a strong and clear message: Thank you for attending this presentation.

3. Pause bravely

Put in a pause or two. Pauses do good things: They let a nervous presenter take a breath and relax. They give you a moment to look at your notes. But mostly, they make the important points stick in the audience’s memory.

Suppose the speaker says, 99% of law offices surveyed said X software was the best investment they ever made. If you rush right into the next sentence, the lawyers will forget that important nugget. But pause, and it soaks in.

4. Watch the clock

Never talk past your allotted time. If 30 minutes are set aside for your presentation, stop at 20 and ask for questions.

If time gets short, just throw in what Fripp terms “an emergency ending.” Tell what was not covered and offer to provide it later.

Suppose the presentation is about a new billing software and the clock starts to chime before you get to the part about how two other law offices have used it. Just say, If you’d like to hear about case histories of other offices that use this software, I’ll be happy to tell you about them after we finish.

5. Four little asides

  • Never read a presentation.
  • To project confidence, lean forward in the chair and make direct eye contact.
  • Be comfortable with silence. Don’t try to fill it up. Being able to look at a group or at an individual in silence bespeaks confidence.
  • Always say something memorable, or something the lawyers can take away; for example, This software could well give us the competitive edge.

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