Discernment; Issue #320 September 16, 2014

Discernment is defined as making wise decisions or judging well. In order to make wise decisions as a presenter, you have to ask the right questions. Too often, presenters don't ask key questions that help them determine the content and approach that will be most successful.

Why don't presenters ask the right questions? Often it is because of time and habit. In the corporate world today everyone is pressed for time. Presenters think they don't have time to ask questions because there are many other priorities waiting. Nothing could be farther from the truth. By simply asking some key questions, presenters could save time they currently waste going down the wrong path resulting in more work.

It is also due to habit. We tend to do things the way we have always done them. Most presenters don't ask about goals, audience, or other important aspects. They start their preparation by selecting slides from previous presentations and trusting that a coherent message will somehow emerge. Too often it never quite emerges. (See this previous newsletter on the GPS approach to planning your message)

At the Presentation Summit in a few weeks I will be delivering a session on discernment and sharing fifteen questions that I think presenters, and those who assist them, should be asking. I will also share how you should evaluate the answers to the questions, so you can make a wise decision. Today I want to share three of the questions from this upcoming presentation.

PowerPointOutputsOne of the questions presenters should ask is, "Am I creating a presentation or a report?" While this sounds like an obvious question, I find many presenters get confused. It stems from the fact they are using PowerPoint. PowerPoint was originally a tool to create presentation slides. But it has morphed into an easy to use page layout tool that is used to create documents that were previously created in Word or a desktop publishing program. Just because you are using PowerPoint doesn't mean you are creating a presentation.

In answering this question, consider whether the file will actually be presented in front of an audience, whether it will be emailed to a group, whether it will be printed and bound, and any other use for what you are creating. If you are creating a presentation, don't create a report filled with details and read it to the audience. Use hidden slides for the details and present the key messages. If you are creating a report, use some of the ideas from Nancy Duarte's SlideDocs book on using PowerPoint to create reports.

Another question presenters should ask is, "What does the audience already know about this topic?" Again, this seems like an obvious question, but one that is too often overlooked. Even for internal presentations to groups you are familiar with, you need to investigate who will be at the presentation because people change roles and newcomers are often joining regularly scheduled meetings. Literacy is a key aspect of this question as well. Literacy could be for the language you will be using, since more and more presentations are done virtually to a worldwide audience. Literacy is also in the terms you will be using. Last newsletter I spoke at more length about the issue of jargon and acronyms. Consider this question carefully, especially when you have audiences that have different levels of familiarity with your topic. Plan to help those with less knowledge get quickly up to speed so they will understand the message you are delivering.

A third question presenters should ask is, "What is the presentation timeline?" Again, this may sound basic, but I see far too many presenters who are rushing at the last minute and fly into the room obviously not fully prepared. Consider each presentation as a project. Think of the key tasks that need to be done, who else they involve, and when they need to be completed. Some tasks to include: determining the goal, analyzing the audience, gathering data from other areas or external sources, analyzing data, preparing an outline, reviewing the outline for approval, creating slides, creating speaking notes, practicing, and rehearsing. By knowing what needs to be included in the plan, you can schedule the necessary time to get it all done. Book the time in your schedule and reserve time in the schedule of others who you need to assist or approve. You will be more relaxed and you will have the time necessary to create a successful presentation.

At the Presentation Summit I will expand on these three questions and share a dozen more. As you strive towards improving your presentations, take a step back and look at the process you follow. Come up with key questions you should be asking and how to evaluate the answers. It will help you become a more discerning presenter.