Written by: Limor Bergman Gross, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Mastering presentation skills: A necessity for tech leaders. Imagine a scenario in December 2015 – a moment that nearly cost me a career opportunity in the vibrant city of New York. In the final stages of interviewing for a management position, I presented to a diverse audience of 25 individuals, including team members, directors, VPs, and even the CEO. The pivotal point of the day was a presentation where I had to articulate my management philosophy. The stakes were high, and the pressure was intense. I'll share the outcome of this story later, but for now, let's delve into why presentation skills are indispensable for tech leaders.
Why presentation skills are vital for tech leaders
Picture this: you're in an interview, a team meeting, or a boardroom presentation. The ability to communicate effectively can determine your career trajectory. Presentation skills are not just about interviews; they are pivotal in your career progression and various business roles. Mastering the art of presentation is essential to advance in your tech career. But what exactly is the most critical aspect of a presentation? It's preparation.
Know your audience
Before diving into the content, you must understand your audience thoroughly. As Stephen Covey wisely stated in his "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," begin with the end in mind. Consider who your audience is, what they know, what challenges they face, and what you want them to know, feel, do, and understand after your presentation.
Questions to ask about your audience
Who Are They?: Begin by understanding the demographics and roles of your audience. Are they technical experts, decision-makers, or a mix of both?
Why Are They Here?: Consider the purpose of the gathering. Are they seeking information, making a decision, or looking for inspiration?
What Do They Already Know?: Gauge their prior knowledge of your topic. Are they novices or well-versed in the subject?
What Do They Not Know?: Identify gaps in their knowledge or areas needing clarification or guidance.
What Challenges or Problems Do They Have?: Explore the issues or obstacles your audience currently faces that your presentation can address.
What Is Their Opinion or Attitude?: Consider the prevailing sentiments or opinions within your audience regarding your topic.
How Much Time Do They Have?: Assess the time constraints of your audience. Is it a brief presentation or an extended discussion?
How Do They Prefer to Be Presented? Understand their preferences for content delivery. Do they prefer data-driven charts, engaging visuals, or a narrative approach?
Defining your presentation goals
Your presentation's success hinges on your ability to align it with your objectives. Ask yourself
What Do You Want Them to Know, Feel, Do, and Understand After Your Presentation?
Define the key takeaways and the emotional or practical impact you want to create.
What Are Your Goals? Are you aiming to secure project approval, a budget increase, or persuade customers to purchase?
The opening techniques: Captivating your audience
In the realm of presentations, the opening is your golden ticket to capturing your audience's attention. With countless distractions and virtual presentations becoming the norm today, grabbing and holding your audience's focus is paramount.
Personal Storytelling: Begin with a story that resonates with your audience and ties into your topic. A personal anecdote like the one I shared about my New York presentation can create an emotional connection.
Provocative Questions: Pose a question that piques your curiosity and sets the stage for your presentation. For instance, you can start with a thought-provoking inquiry about your subject matter.
Surprising Statistics or Facts: Share compelling statistics or surprising facts relevant to your topic. Numbers have the power to intrigue and engage your audience.
Imagination and "What If"Scenarios: Encourage your audience to imagine a world or situation related to your topic. This technique sparks creativity and invites active participation.
Quotes, Images, and Videos: Commence with a meaningful quote, a striking image, or a captivating video clip. Visual and auditory elements can instantly captivate your audience's senses.
It is not just what you say. It is how you say it.
Before we explore the finer details of presentation techniques, let's delve into the art of captivating your audience right from the start. It's not just about what you say; it's also about how you say it. To illustrate this, I'd like to share two examples from the world of tech conferences, where opening techniques played a crucial role in engaging the audience.
Example 1: The impact of a lackluster opening
In this example, we have a presenter who, despite having valuable content, needs to catch up in the delivery. The video showcases a tech conference presentation where the speaker's approach leaves much to be improved. The key takeaways from this example are:
Lack of Confidence: The speaker appears unsure and needs more confidence, evident in their tone and body language. They need to establish a strong presence on stage.
Monotone Delivery: The presentation needs more energy, with a monotonous delivery failing to capture the audience's attention.
Minimal Engagement: The speaker needs to engage with the audience more effectively, resulting in a disconnected and disinterested crowd.
Example 2: The power of engaging storytelling
In contrast, our second example presents a speaker who engages the audience right from the beginning. This video showcases another tech conference presentation where the speaker's opening technique is brilliant. The key takeaways from this example are:
Compelling Storytelling: The speaker opens with a captivating story that immediately draws the audience in. The narrative is relevant to the topic and resonates with the audience.
Energetic and Personable: The presenter exudes energy, maintains eye contact, and connects with the audience on a personal level. Their body language is open and dynamic.
Audience Involvement: The speaker encourages participation, creating an interactive and engaging atmosphere. Therefore, it fosters a sense of involvement and connection.
These two examples emphasize the importance of "what" and "how" you say it. The delivery style, storytelling, and engagement techniques can significantly affect how your message is received.
Building a compelling presentation body: Crafting your story
The body of your presentation is where your narrative unfolds, and it's essential to create a seamless flow, even for technical subjects. Imagine your presentation as a story with interconnected chapters.
Monroe's Motivated Sequence: This persuasive technique includes five stages – Attention, Need, Satisfaction, Visualization, and Action. Use it to convince your audience, whether you're selling an idea, a product, or a vision.
Origin Story: Narrate your journey or the origin of your topic. Begin with your starting point, elucidate challenges, highlight pivotal moments, and showcase your achievements and milestones. Conclude with the lessons learned and your current purpose or future goals.
Generative AI Tools: Leverage modern tools like ChatGPT, Canva, or other Generative AI platforms to streamline the structure of your presentation. These tools offer templates and content suggestions to help you build a coherent narrative.
Here are some of the most popular, up-to-date generative AI tools to help with presentations:
Kroma is a tool that can help you create visually stunning presentations. It uses artificial intelligence to generate high-quality images, charts, and graphs tailored to your needs.
Visme is another tool that can help you create professional-looking presentations. It offers various templates and features, including adding animation and interactivity to your slides.
Plus.ai is a newer tool that uses artificial intelligence to help you write and deliver presentations. It can help you brainstorm ideas and create a compelling storyboard.
Jasper is a next-generation AI tool that can help you write content for your presentations, such as the introduction, body, and conclusion.
Outgrow is a tool that can help you create another interactive presentation. It offers a variety of features, such as quizzes, surveys, and polls, that can help you engage your audience.
These are just a few of the many available generative AI tools. The best tool for you will depend on your specific needs and preferences.
Some additional tips for using generative AI tools to help with presentations:
Start with a clear goal in mind. What do you want to achieve with your presentation? Once you know your goal, you can brainstorm ideas and content.
Use the tool to your advantage. Feel free to experiment with the tool's different features and options.
Review and revise your presentation. Once you have created your presentation, take some time to review it and make sure that it is clear, concise, and engaging.
Practice your presentation. The more you practice, the more confident you will be when you deliver it.
Going back to the story I started earlier. In December 2015, I found myself in the throes of a high-stakes interview in the bustling city of New York. The pivotal point of the day was a presentation where I had to articulate my management philosophy to a diverse audience, including team members, directors, VPs, and the CEO.
The task was straightforward: present my vision for engineering management, addressing several critical questions such as what constitutes a high-performing organization, my approach to hiring, performance management, team structure, velocity measurement, and overall philosophy for building engineering teams. Now, let's get to the crux of the matter. Despite the situation's gravity and the presentation's importance, I made a glaring mistake. Instead of weaving a cohesive narrative that connected the dots between these critical aspects, I took a disjointed approach. I created separate slides for each question, with no overarching story to guide the audience through my vision.
It was a jarring experience for the panel, who sat through a barrage of slides that lacked a unifying thread. While my answers were insightful, I presented them as isolated responses to each question. In hindsight, I could have engaged them more effectively and provided a holistic view of my leadership capabilities.
Constructing a persuasive conclusion
Your conclusion should align with your presentation's purpose. Whether you aim to educate, persuade, inspire, or motivate, ensure your ending serves that objective. Summarize key points, issue a call to action, or close with an inspiring story or quote. A well-thought-out conclusion leaves a lasting impression.
Strategies for making your message stick
Summarize Key Points: For educational presentations, recap the main takeaways to reinforce learning.
Issue a Call to Action: If you seek to persuade, motivate, or inspire, end with a clear call to action, guiding your audience on the next steps.
Inspire with a Storyor Quote: Closing with an inspiring story or a resonating quote can leave a lasting impression.
Final thoughts: Impactful presentation mastery
Now, how does my story end? Surprisingly, despite my flawed presentation, I managed to secure the job. The panel saw potential in my answers and recognized that my approach to leadership and management was sound, even though my delivery left much to be improved. It was a humbling experience that taught me a crucial lesson: content is essential, but how you deliver it can make or break your message.
This experience became a turning point in my journey, propelling me to delve deeper into the art of effective presentations. I realized that mastering presentation skills wasn't just about having the right answers but about conveying those answers compellingly and coherently.
Every presentation should start with the end in mind, catering to your audience's needs and goals. Craft a compelling opening, construct a cohesive body, and conclude purposefully. Remember, it's not just about what you say but how you say it. Engage your audience, make your content relatable, and leave them with a clear message or call to action.
Whether presenting in a conference hall, leading a team meeting, or delivering a critical pitch, mastering presentation skills is non-negotiable for tech leaders. It's not merely about conveying information; it's about making a lasting impact.
Limor Bergman Gross, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Limor is an Executive Coach for ambitious women in tech that want to get to the next level in their careers and achieve more through a result-oriented coaching process. Women she works with, say Limor enabled them to continuously tear down "ceilings" by challenging them to think bigger. They also say she opened their eyes to a new way of contributing to their careers. Limor loves talking about career progression in the tech industry and how to build your brand in the company and externally. Limor is married with four children; she loves running and working out at the gym while listening to electronic music.