How to check your presentation outline with your boss before spending time creating slides

Has this happened to you?  You get a request from your boss to present on topic X.  You spend hours doing research, creating slides and go in to present.  You don’t even get to slide three and he stops you.  “This isn’t what I was looking for”, he says.  He angrily tells you what he wanted and sends you off to re-do the presentation.  You are frustrated at wasting so many hours the first time and you are fearful of whether the next presentation will get shot down.

If this is your reality, I suggest that before you start any of the detailed work on a presentation for your boss, get them to review your outline.  If you are off target, you’ll know up front and can get on target before wasting hours on something he doesn’t want.

Now, before I show you a template for your presentation outline, let me address the key question you are probably asking yourself.  “Why can’t the boss just be clear on what he wants?”  That would be ideal, wouldn’t it.  If they gave you the outline of what they wanted, it would be so much easier.  But that’s not going to happen for two reasons.

First, they don’t have the time to prepare detailed outlines for every presentation they request.  And second, they probably don’t know exactly what they want.  You see, they have a general idea of what they want to hear, but they get a clearer idea when they see some details.  And if you don’t check the details with them before you present, the first chance they get to critique the details is when you are presenting.  And it is too late by then.

So here’s what I suggest you send them in an e-mail to check if what you are planning to present is what they are looking for.  Obviously you’ll customize it for your setting.

Dear Boss,

I am glad you asked me to present to you on topic X.  I’d like to make sure I am spending my time most productively on this presentation, so I’d like you to spend five minutes reviewing this outline to make sure I’ll be presenting what you need in order to make important decisions based on the information in my presentation.  I appreciate any feedback you have as it will ensure that the time we spend in the presentation will be productive for the organization.

Goal of the presentation
At the end of the presentation, you want to <have the information to make a decision on X, understand the problems with Y, know what our competition is doing in the Z region, etc.>

Current situation
At present, the following are known about this issue:

Key Points in the presentation
In order to move from the current situation to the goal of the presentation, I plan to cover the following areas:

Supporting information
To back up the key points, I’ll be <gathering data from J, analyzing K, interviewing L & M, getting industry research from firm N, creating a graph to show Q, etc.>

Presentation format
I plan to present using the projector and screen along with a handout of my slides and backup data for you to take notes on.  I understand that the V room has been reserved on Thursday from 10:00 am to 11:00 am for this presentation and discussion.

By getting feedback on what you plan to present before you do the detailed work, you’ll save a lot of rework and your boss will be able to make quicker decisions because he has the information he needs the first time.

Talk to your boss about using this approach and ask to test it with the next five presentations.  I think you’ll find that you will save enormous amounts of time in preparation and your boss will get what they want the first time.  Reduced frustration for both of you.  That’s a good thing.  And now you have more time to be working on higher value tasks that you never seem to have time to get to.

By Dave Paradi

Dave Paradi has over twenty-two years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written ten books and over 600 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don't overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of fewer than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel, PowerPoint, and Teams communities. His articles and videos on virtual presenting have been viewed over 4.8 million times and liked over 17,000 times on YouTube.