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Project Presentations Part 1 Print

Part 1 - Planning for a Good Project Presentation

Face the facts; as a PM, or even as a team member, you are going to have to give briefings or presentations at some time. It may be to your boss or his boss, it may be to future users of your product, maybe a milestone briefing, or you could be speaking to an audience for any of a dozen reasons. There are some simple keys to success. This is Part 1 in a three part series. Part 2 covers building the presentation and Part 3 covers giving the briefing.

Planning for the common kinds of presentation that you might make as a PM is similar to, but can be different from presentations for a class, a large conference or as a keynote speaker. So the focus here is limited to decision briefings, status briefings and other project-related presentations.

Analyze the audience

The first step when you have to give a presentation is to analyze the audience (specifically the decision maker if a decision is to come out of it). How much background and knowledge about the project does he have? Does he have the final say or will he have to brief it up the chain? What are his pet rocks or pet peeves? What are his biases? Is he already on your side and you just have to give him the facts, or do you have to overcome his negative bias?

But don't forget the "strap hangers" who will be there, too. They can enhance or kill your chance of success. So who else will attend? What is their relationship to the decision maker? What are their positions and level of influence? What do they already know? How will they be affected by what you are briefing/recommending? Who else will be affected and how?

Make sure that you take all of this into account as you prepare. As Ethel Cook, an eminent speaker says, in creating your presentation, think like a reporter and answer the "who, what, why, how, and where" questions. This is good advice for any presentation.
- Who will attend - and how many?
- What is the purpose of the presentation? Is it to explain a plan or project; report on what's been done; get support; define or solve a problem; gain consensus for a decision; get approval for an action; or something else.
- Why are they there? Assume that they will be asking themselves, "What's in it for me?" Be sure you answer that question for them.
- How will you present the information that is needed to support your purpose? Keep your points short, concise and understandable to your audience. Use visuals to clarify and reinforce your message.
" Where is it going to take place? The room that the presentation is in will have an impact on how you present. Will you need to bring anything or is it already there?

Focus the topic

For a project-related decision briefing, try to keep it to one topic, if possible - focus on cost, schedule or tech performance if it is a and avoid compound decisions. They make life too complicated. Sometimes, though, you won't be able to get around compound decisions, but try to minimize those. For a status briefing, you will have to cover much more than one topic.

Here are some the things to think about before deciding what to brief. "If I were the audience, what would I like or need to hear?" Tailor your presentation to give the essential information that the listeners need and limit it to that. If you have briefed this topic to the same audience before, check what you said. If you are going to say something different now, explain what has changed and why. This affects your creditability because some people have long memories. Don't try to tell them everything that you know about the subject. Avoid side trips and excursions - keep it focused. Show them the "what's in it for me." And remember the root word in "briefing" is "brief".

To get the information across, use a logical sequence for the presentation - make sure that it fits the topic and you are comfortable with the sequence. Some of the most common sequences are:
- Building block - working up to a conclusion in a logical progression where each points adds weight to what has preceded it
- Sequential or chronological - using a sequence such as a timeline or progression through the development steps
- Categorical - breaking the topic into categorical sections such as cost, schedule, risks, etc.
- Comparison - comparing the topic to something that has already been accomplished or is known to the audience
- Elimination - presenting options and then using facts or logic to eliminate them until only the desired action is left

You have heard it before, but it's worth saying again - plan to tell them what you are going to tell them; tell them; and tell them what you told them. Set the stage, give them the information and sum it up. When you get to the end of your briefing, set forth your recommendation(s) or conclusion(s). You'll probably want to reiterate one or two of the major points or factors. Then you will want to conclude with what actions need to be taken.

And in conclusion…

As a PM you are going to have to give briefings. There is no way around it. You need to be the spokesman for the project. The bottom line is Prepare, Practice and Present. The more that you do it, the better you'll get. Good planning will make you ready and confident. And being ready and confident is far more than half the battle.

Wayne Turk (c) 2007 

About the Author 

Wayne Turk is an independent management and project management consultant with Suss Consulting. He is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and defense contractor. He has supported information technology projects, policy development and strategic planning projects for federal agencies, companies and non-profit organizations. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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