Are you delivering a presentation at work soon? Is it your first time and you're not sure what might be the best way to impress your audience? It could be delivering a seminar to clients, a teach-back for evaluation, a proposal to senior management. This article offers a framework of six parts - Voice, Hook, Story, Rhythm & Eyes, Ending and Credibility. Adapt to your own needs.
TED Talks shows you a benchmark. You still have to put in the effort to learn techniques and practice. Can you sing like Mariah Carey after listening to her greatest hits album?
1. Your Voice
In any formal presentation at work, your voice is what matters the most. Your voice drives content. What are you trying to say? What do you want your audience to know? After your presentation, what should your audience take action on?
The worst thing about any presentation is not knowing what the presenter is trying to achieve. Don’t be that guy who talks a lot but isn’t really saying anything.
2. Your Hook
Part 1 of Hook: Who is your target audience?
You must know whom you are talking to. Your content must be relevant to your target audience. You must let them know about the relevance in the introduction. It is the job of the speaker to articulate that connection of their needs vs how you will meet their needs in that introduction. You should target to express your hook in at most three bullet points. Anything more means you are not being succinct.
Part 2 of Hook: What’s in it for me?
Everyone has targets, to-do lists, urgent matters, emails to reply to. Why are they even sitting there, giving you their time? Why should your audience care about what you want to say? Your content must absolutely be relevant to your audience.
If you are pushing forward a new idea, figure out what’s in it for your audience. Then adapt your message to them.
Numbers are important, some numbers paint a story. However numbers are good only if you explain what it means.
3. Your Story
There is a story, a plot even in a business presentation. A story is what keeps the presentation refreshing. There is a chain of events, or points to make. Everyone follows the flow before we arrive at the conclusion.
In a business presentation, we often get sucked into data, thinking that it gives us more credibility. Too many numbers means you are just presenting numbers. Where's that magical element to keep your audience engaged?
This is an example of a story:
The young Prince was slayed by the Enemy. The King was devastated and swore revenge. He challenged the Enemy to a combat in a week. A man to man fight on the barren desert that sits between both their lands. The Enemy accepted. The King usually battles with the Sword made of the finest steel. Today, he laid it aside. The King ordered his men to chop down the old walnut trees that sits in the forest behind the palace. What he wanted was a wooden sword. “What can a wooden sword do?” the Queen protested, “Take your steel blade. It is mighty and deadly!” The King ignored her. The King obsessed over details of the length and weight of the sword. He tested different measures, prototypes until he was happy with one that was light, with a pointy end that is as sharp as a needle. The combat started. The Enemy swung his massive metal sword, the King ducked. The Enemy pushed forward, but the King hopped sideways. They continued this dance for hours. The Enemy’s steps grew heavier, his panting louder. After all, it was not easy swinging a heavy metal blade under the scorching sun in the desert. The King saw an opening, lunged forward and jabbed the pointy end of his wooden sword into the eyes of the Enemy. The Enemy cried in pain. The King seized the chance to knock the mighty blade out from the Enemy’s hand. “What’s the meaning of winning in this combat? I can’t see my son again. You have no right to take my son’s life, and I also do not have a right to take yours. If I slice your head off with this sword today, your son will lose a father. I just pray that we make peace and never to take any more lives again.” The end.
This is a work of fiction. I made it up. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead or actual events is purely coincidental.
Now... this is NOT a story:
The young Prince was slayed by the Enemy. The King was devastated and swore revenge. He challenged the Enemy to a combat in a week. A man to man fight on the barren desert that sits between both their lands. The Enemy accepted. So far, so good. The King usually battles with the Sword made of the finest steel. It is an alloy of iron, chromium and nickel, fused together at 903 degree Celsius. The Medieval Magazine published a ranking of "Best Swords to Buy From the Marketplace", located in 13th Century Edition XIVVII. This sword was ranked number 1 with 4.88 stars, based on 10,998 solid reviews. But today, the King laid it aside. The King has a forest behind his palace, at 23,588 acres with a mix of trees. The King wanted a wooden sword. He ordered his men to chop down the old walnut trees. Walnut is 15% harder than oak and 33% stronger than pine. The King requested for 10 prototypes. His hardworking men gave themselves a stretch target of 39 prototypes and chopped down 588 trees. Never mind wasting trees. Exceeding expectations on target is more important. “What can a wooden sword do?” the Queen protested, “Take your steel blade. It is mighty and deadly!” The King ignored her. The King obsessed over details of the length and weight of the sword. The King has a height of 1.85 meters and weighed 82.3 kg. In order for him to attack his Enemy with greatest speed and accuracy, the sword must weigh no more than 899 gram. That's because according to the Third Law of Physics, when two objects interact, they apply forces to each other of equal magnitude and opposite direction. Since the formula is FA = −FB, 899 gram of weight is optimal, based on the mass of the King. He tested different measures, prototypes until he was happy with one that was light and an end that is almost as sharp as a needle. ...and so on. You get the idea.
Unfortunately, I have sat in some presentations that flow this way. Not cool.
Numbers are important, some numbers paint a story. However numbers are good only if you explain what it means.
For example, you are explaining to someone who doesn't know what Historical Volatility is. What do you think of this explanation?
The 30-day historical volatility of the stock now is at 20%. Historical volatility is the annualized standard deviation of log returns of prices. To calculate a 30-day volatility number, you can pull out traded prices from last 30 days. First, calculate the log returns with =LN(Price_Day2)/LN(Price_Day1) in Excel. Then apply =STDEV, and annualized by applying =SQRT(260).
It's formula after formula. It's downright boring. It is very easy to directly lift formula from textbook, or cite data from sources. But you are making life harder for your audience when you don't explain how that number is meaningful. Your audience must always come first. Care for your audience.
Try this version instead. Tell your audience what that 20% means and how to read it.
The 30-day historical volatility of the stock now is at 20%. In a simplified explanation, this means if the stock trades at $100 now, the stock will fall between a range of $80 to $120 roughly 68% of the time. The wider prices swing in the last 30 days, the higher the standard deviation, hence indicating higher volatility.
You must know the numbers inside out in a business presentation. You don't have to show data to every single point. If it doesn't help your story flow, keep the numbers at the back of your head.
When you get asked in Q&A on "how is historical volatility calculated exactly?" or "why did the King chose walnut for his sword?", that's when you back up your claims with formula, prove-outs, numbers. You can mention numbers, but never let massive amount of numbers interfere with flow.
How to ensure flow? Make a list of main points of your presentation content. For each main point, make one sentence to summarize what that main point is about. Edit down to the most concise version.
Every time you transit to a new main point in your presentation, that one liner serves as a "bridge sentence" which you will articulate when you introduce a new point. Spell it out for the audience to help bridge their thoughts.
4. Your Rhythm, Your Eyes
I don't necessarily agree with the advice of watching a lot of TED Talks to improve on your presentation.
Can you sing like Mariah Carey after listening to her greatest hits album? It's not like you can pick up techniques magically through osmosis.
TED Talks shows you a benchmark. You still have to put in the effort to learn techniques and practice. The benefit of watching TED Talks is getting a sense of what great rhythm is, and what great audience engagement means. You should definitely watch a couple of videos, but don't spend hours of passive watching. Instead, just practice.
The best way is to film yourself, and then watch yourself. This exercise will make you cringe because it exposes all the things you need to work on. But it will teach you to pace and to engage.
If you want to ace it, practicing in front of the mirror is not enough. You'd be too busy rehearsing. Filming means you can watch yourself with full attention.
Focus on pace. Pace yourself well when you speak. Talk too fast, nobody follows. Talk too slow, everyone dozes off. Focus on eyes. Look at your audience. You don't need a script, you know your stuff, you've got it. Your audience is giving you their time. You have to know your stuff.
Enjoy the presentation, let that buzz carry you through. You will come off as natural and charming.
With remote working during Covid-19, learn to simulate eye contact by staring into the camera. Learn to interact with your audience remotely. Learn to ask questions from your audience. Learn to pause at the right moments to let information sink before you move on to the next point.
5. Your Ending
In every presentation, there is a beginning, middle and end. In a business presentation, conclusion is important.
What's the next step everyone must do? What's next? Is it a call to improve processes? Drive more revenue? How does your story ties in with overall business strategy? If there are no next steps... why are we spending all that time time listening to you?
6 .Your Credibility in Q&A
I have never sat in any presentation at work, that does not involve a Q&A in my lifetime. As I mentioned in "Your Story" above, you need to know your own numbers and work inside out. This is how you maintain that credibility. It's fine even if you don't have answers to everything. Assuming you have five audience in the room with you, that's five different brains giving you five different perspectives. There are still many times I get to hear thoughts that didn't even cross my mind. That's how you learn. But I still stress, you still need to know your own work inside out.
How many times can you say "I don't know"? My personal opinion is not to go over 30% (that's 3 don't-knows out of 10 questions). Anything more just indicates you are not well prepared. You haven't thought deeply about your topic. Then why are you the one doing the presentation? Why should your audience invest that time to watch? Rule of thumb - whatever you show, you better know it inside out.
Questions are never personal. It just means that everyone is thinking about what you shared. There would be no questions if nobody is thinking. Then why is nobody thinking? This is when you have to ask yourself "did I manage to articulate my points across effectively?" and reflect as honestly as you can.
Lastly, there are those who might advise that you can "just wing it". I highly encourage you not to, especially if it's your first couple of formal presentations at work, Those who can just wing their presentations are likely to be experienced, and talking about a topic they are highly familiar with. Their ability to wing it on the spot comes from years of understanding of the business and product. Just don't do it. It's not fair to the people who are giving you their time.
Adapt the framework to your needs. Hope you blow your audience's minds.
This is part of the Framework Series created for young professionals at the early stage of their career. It offers a framework to that very first time.
What else could we include in the Framework Series? How may I make the series more useful to you? Please feel to let me know your suggestions here. I'd be happy to hear from you!