Bite the Bullet: Improving Your Presentation Strategies

Implementing a few sound strategies can make an IT manager's presentation process more predictable and painless, keep the audience's attention and help ensure approval for project goals.

By Tom Bunzel
Mon, April 02, 2007

CIO — If anyone needs to convey complex information to get the approval of peers or higher ups, it's CIOs and the managers who report to them. Yet, before a presentation, what do you do? If you're like a lot of us, you're likely to throw everything you know onto a set of slides, hoping the random set of bullet points will result in project approval or funding. After all, you don't have the time to learn all the ins and outs of your presentation software (Microsoft PowerPoint or Apple's Keynote).

Implementing a few sound strategies, however, can make the presentation process more predictable and painless, and help to ensure success. We've prepared a short tour to help you construct a presentation that communicates your message to the tired people in that darkened room, in a way that will keep them awake and listening. We even include a sample PowerPoint template to make the process easier.

1) Plan and Structure Your Presentation
A friend of mine does hundreds of PowerPoint presentations. She begs those she's presenting for to allow her sufficient time to craft a storyline and to prepare to speak in front of their audience—a process also known as rehearsal. When she exhorted her boss to do the same, he said, "Do you know what airplanes are for?" She shook her head. "They're for creating my PowerPoint slides," he replied.

This is a sad state of affairs. Quite a bit is at stake in your presentation, or you wouldn't take the time to give it and your audience wouldn't invest the time to show up for it. You have something important to say. The results may mean funding, career advancement, a bonus or a pink slip. So at a minimum, lay out a structure that approximates a three-act story of some kind. It can give you a road map and can make things a lot easier for both you and your listeners. In Microsoft PowerPoint, the Outline View can help you achieve this.

Even though I'll recommend visuals in a moment, you should use words to lay out your structure. Or, if you're more comfortable in Word, use Word's Outline view to construct a minimalist story structure such as the following:

  • What is the current problem? What are the potential consequences of inaction or the wrong action?
  • Your recommendations for solving the problem
    • What you've already tried
    • What others have suggested (and why it won't work)
    • What you recommend
  • The process that will be involved in the solution
    • Part 1
    • Part 2
    • Part 3
  • A call to action
    • Immediate steps to be taken
    • Contingencies and follow-up
    • Sign off; get authorization
Put these items into an outline and expand them. If you use Outline view in Word, you can click File/Send to PowerPoint, and your slides will be created automatically; your main points become slide titles and the sub-points are bullets.

You can also use the PowerPoint AutoContent Wizard to get ideas and structure for almost any type of presentation. Click File/New in PowerPoint 2003 to see a menu of many types of presentations with content ready to be revised. PowerPoint 2007 has a new set of templates under Microsoft Office Online/Presentations. You can get a good basic structure with the template called "Presentation for Strategy Recommendation." We modified that template to create the one that accompanies this article.

Need an all-purpose PowerPoint template to walk you through the creation of a strategy-based presentation? This one should get you started.
2) Identify the Pain

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