Presentation Tip: Preparing for status update presentations

One of the most common types of presentations that professionals have to make is a status update type of presentation. You are working on an initiative or project and you need to bring a steering committee or management team up to date on what has been going on. While this type of presentation sounds straightforward, many presenters do not realize the opportunity and risk in this type of presentation. In this article I want to talk about how you can make your next status update presentation a success.

The biggest risk in this type of presentation is not understanding the true goal of the presentation. The goal is not just to update the audience on what you have been doing. The goal is more important than a simple information sharing time. There are two goals that you should be considering. The first is to convince the group that the situation is in control, no changes need to be made, and the project/program/initiative should continue to be supported. Too many presenters assume that they still have the support of management and are surprised when questions are asked that indicate perhaps support is wavering.

Another common goal may be to ask the group for support to move in a slightly different direction or change the type of support (financial, personnel, timing) that is being given. I have seen too many project managers come out of a meeting with their sponsor group frustrated that they didn't get approval for changes. When I inquire about what happened, it becomes clear that the presentation never asked for approval of changes. The project manager just assumed that the audience would know the goal of the presentation and didn't think they needed to be clear about it.

Depending on the situation you find yourself in, one of these two goals will likely focus your thoughts and message better than simply a list of what has been done in the past month. This is your opportunity to shore up support and raise your visibility to executives. Once you know what your goal is, you need to consider your audience. With either goal, you are looking for support, so think about the criteria that the group uses to decide on supporting an initiative or changing direction. Consider what their prior concerns have been and be prepared to address them. Even though you may have been presenting to this group regularly in the past, we all tend to assume things about a situation and it is good to review our audience analysis each time.

In developing an outline for your presentation, I suggest you start with a quick overview of the status and any requests you have. This is not a mystery novel where you want to reveal the requests at the end. Be upfront with what the purpose is and a high level view of the status on schedule, budget and other important aspects. Then you can discuss with them progress and challenges in each area. Executives don't like surprises, so saving the requests until the end makes them uncomfortable and they will likely end up delaying any decisions until they have had more time to think about them. By previewing the requests up front, they have time to consider the detailed information in each area within the context of the request and can be more confident making a decision at the end of the presentation.

When creating slides for your status update presentation, consider using visuals that will be easy for the executives to understand. For schedules, consider time-based diagrams like a Gantt chart or calendar diagram. These diagrams visually show the time a task takes or shows when it will be complete. The timeline or calendar makes it easy to see how tasks relate to each other on the dimension of time (for an example of a calendar diagram, watch this slide makeover video on Brainshark or on YouTube). For budget discussions, don't just copy a spreadsheet onto a slide. Summarize the key figures and show a summary table, highlighting the key figures they need to pay attention to (for an example of a summary table replacing a spreadsheet, watch this slide makeover on Brainshark or on YouTube). Consider other diagrams or visuals that can help the executives quickly and easily understand your message. The better they understand, the easier it is for them to support you.

Don't forget at the end of the presentation to explicitly ask for support based on the specific requests you have. Too many presenters assume that the audience knows what support they are asking for, so they don't actually ask. If you don't ask, they won't necessarily know to respond. A status update presentation is an opportunity to showcase you and your team, so plan it carefully and create an effective presentation that gets your team the support it needs to move forward.