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Project Presentations Part 3 Print

 - Making a Good Project Presentation

We've all suffered through painful presentations. We've listened to the mumbler, the reader, the statue, the unprepared, and the boring. You don't want people to suffer when you present, do you? Part 1 covered planning the presentation and Part 2 covered building the slides. Part 3 gives some guidelines and hints for making the presentation.

Giving the presentation

You have analyzed the audience, planned the briefing, built the slides and practiced. This is the moment of truth. If you have done the appropriate preparation, giving the presentation will be a breeze. You just have to stand up there and do it.

As a starting suggestion, put paper copies of your slides in front of you, keeping them face up. As you change slides, move the current slide across to a second pile, keeping it face up. Then you can tell at a glance what your current slide is without having to turn round and read the screen. It also will show you what the next slide is, so you can change to it at the right moment. Some people can give their presentation with no notes. Most people can't. It might be a good idea to put notes on your paper copy (in large print). Don't feel embarrassed about using the slides as notes or even having cards with notes. Just don't use them as a script. They should be memory aids, used to jog your memory about what you wanted to say.

During your talk, face and talk to your audience. Try to face the screen as little as possible. Remember, you are presenting to the people in the room, not to the screen. In the same vein, don't stare at the table, lectern, floor or your notes. Look at your audience. This might be tough, but making eye contact adds to your credibility. You can also tell if you are losing them. Use gestures and movement, but don't overdo it or try to choreograph them.

When briefing, speak up and speak clearly. Don't use acronyms without explaining what they mean unless you are 100% sure that your audience will understand them. In project management, acronyms and jargon are a way of life, but the same acronym doesn't always mean the same thing to those in the audience, and jargon, especially technical jargon, can lose people quickly. So simplify your language. Make it easy to understand. Get rid of the gobbledygook and 25 cent words. Your goal is not to impress listeners with your vocabulary. Your goal is to communicate - as clearly as possible.

Most experts say that for a long presentation, each slide should be up 2-4 minutes; for a short one, 1-2 minutes. Of course this depends on the complexity of what is being presented. Rarely should a slide be up for less than a minute.

You have to know the material that you are presenting. You are the expert on the project. Be ready for questions at any time. Of course, the best answer to a question is "Next chart please". That shows you have the listener thinking the same way you are. It is also a good idea to prepare backup slides to answer anticipated questions. This is very helpful if the answer is complex and a slide can help clarify it. If the question doesn't come up, you don't have to show the backup slide(s). If you get a question that you don't know the answer to, admit it and offer to find out and get back to questioner. Trying to waffle or make up an answer on the fly will just get you in trouble.

Getting over your nerves

Being nervous is normal. Here are some additional tips on how to control nervous jitters:
- Relax. Take a deep breath. When nervous, we have a tendency to breathe shallowly. If you concentrate on breathing deeply, you'll get enough air to speak and ease your panic.
- If you forget what you were going to say, don't panic. Just stop, look at your notes or the slide, and find your place. Then go on. The audience will forgive you.
- Use good posture, but don't be a statue. We have more power and energy when we stand erect with weight balanced equally on our feet. It also helps your credibility and adding a little movement helps make it more interesting.
- Concentrate on the message, not on how you think that you are coming across. Look convinced. Act convinced, even if you're not. You are the salesman for your project.
- Learn to laugh at yourself. The problems that occur during presentations can be funny (e.g., you trip, the equipment doesn't work, you find some of lunch on your shirt) and it gets the audience on your side if you can laugh.
- Build in appropriate humor (not jokes). The accent is on appropriate.

Speaking of humor, everybody loves humor, but you have to be careful. Not everyone has the same sense of humor. Most of the time PMs don't need to include much humor in their briefings. It is great if you can slip a little appropriate humor into the presentation, but don't push it. Humor keeps it more interesting for the audience. But if you are giving a status briefing to your boss and the project is behind schedule, over budget or not meeting technical requirements, it might not be too good of an idea to joke about it.

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. Just take the guidelines here and in the previous two parts to heart, listen to the feedback that you get, strive to improve with each new opportunity, and you'll be okay. Briefing an audience never killed anyone and it can help your project and your career.

Wayne Turk (c) 2008

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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