Vinnie self-identified as the world’s worst presenter.
When it came time to deliver a talk he froze.
The prospect of facing his peers and fielding their questions filled him with dread. So much so that he actively avoided people and situations likely to raise push-back or conflict.
Today was the worst day ever.
It had started like any other. It was Friday, with the prospect of a relaxing weekend on he way, Vinnie had left home with a spring in his step.
Everything was normal…
…Until he stepped in to the office. The first words out of his boss’s mouth were, “Conference room. 2 minutes.”
Vinnie dropped his bag, picked up his laptop, and rushed into the meeting room. The rest of the team were already there, looking expectantly at him as he walked in the door.
Panic! A flurry of doomsday thoughts sped through Vinnie’s mind.
What was about to happen? Was he about to be sacked in front of the entire team? He didn’t enjoy a strong relationship with his boss, but he didn’t think things were that bad…
“I’m sorry to do this to you, Vinnie…” He followed the voice and saw his boss sitting at the back of the room. “You weren’t in the office yesterday so I couldn’t give you a heads-up. As you’re the project manager, I’d like you to present an update on the Fordholm project at this morning’s meeting.”
Vinnie struggled to breathe. He gulped and managed to whimper, “When?”
Vinnie’s worst fears realized! Not only a requirement to do a presentation in front of the entire team, but an impromptu one at that. What was he going to say? He had nothing prepared… No slides!
He felt his shoulders sag and heard some tittering from the team. He sat his laptop on the conference room table and made his way to the front of the room.
Body shaking, Vinnie started to speak.
It doesn’t need to be like this.
Presentations are tough. Impromptu presentations can feel like a nightmare. You’ve got nothing prepared or worse, you don’t know much, or anything, about the topic.
Here’s a way that you can do a speech on any business topic with zero preparation.
You can use the As Far As approach. Literally, “as far as I can go with this topic.”
The first step is to simply accept that with no planning or preparation time there are things you are not going to know. With no advance thought on the topic there will be bumps in the road and you will make mistakes. Once you accept this, everything else becomes a whole lot easier.
Don’t treat an impromptu presentation as a lecture. Treating it as a one way conversation will bring you closer to disaster. Treating it as a lecture invites mistakes.
Instead of lecturing, facilitate.
To facilitate, what we are going to do is open the topic up to the audience by asking lots of questions. The answers you get from the audience will determine the direction of the presentation and/or buy you time to collect your thoughts.
First, tell the audience they are going to be involved. In the case of Vinnie’s project update, he might start with:
“I’d like to give you an update on the Fordholm project. As I do that, I’d like to ask you for some feedback.”
Next, talk about the topic and start to involve the audience. For Vinnie’s project update, he could say:
“As project manager I can tell you our deadline is very tight. However, as you know we’ve worked very hard, so almost all of the project will be delivered by the deadline. The only outstanding item will be the finalization of the fulfilment system. Jerry, could you give us a brief update on the fulfillment system please?… Great! Max, could you please let us know how the budget is checking out?…” Etc.
Finally, wrap-up with some action setting as you would at the end of a meeting.
In Vinnie’s case he could try something like:
“This was a good opportunity to update everyone on the Fordholm Project. I’d like to nominate two people to do a full update at next week’s meeting. Jon and Mary could you take care of this please? Thank you.”
But, what about an impromptu presentation where you are not knowledgeable about the topic? That’s why the facilitate step is so great… It’s got you covered!
Okay, let’s imagine your boss asks for a presentation about your thoughts on the weak sales over the last year. You work in accounting and don’t really know. You have your opinions, but that’s it.
You can use the AFA approach:
“Let’s work together today and decide what the problem with our sales has been and how we can overcome it.”
“John, as sales manager, if you could change anything right now, what would it be?… Great! Brian, what about you? Would you like to add anything to the list?”
“Now that we have a pretty good list here, let’s rank them and work out what our 3 biggest issues are.”
This method can be used in any kind of presentation.
It is especially useful for impromptu speeches. Being able to “push” to the audience gives you time. Time to collect your thoughts, time to breathe, time to take the pressure off.