A Network member wants to know how she can make her statistical presentations more effective and engaging for her audience…
An everywomanNetwork member writes…
My role is pretty technical but within it I also have to make quite a lot of presentations to my team and to other stakeholders. I often feel that I am not engaging my audience as much as I would like to, but I am not sure how to make my presentations more interesting when they’re all about data and technical info, which can seem a bit dry. What can I do to improve them and to really communicate what I need to in an effective and memorable way?
INCLUDE REAL-WORLD EXAMPLES TO BRING CODE OR DATA TO LIFE, SAYS AVANADE SENIOR LEADER MIRJAM VAN OLST
A technical presentation that includes just code isn’t very interesting — what’s interesting is sharing what happens when you apply the code in a real-world environment. People will be able to find code samples online, but often the context about the environment in which the code was implemented or the constraints within which it will work is missing. If you can explain what happens when you implement a certain piece of code for a client, or even better, what went wrong when you implemented it and why, then that makes it come to life. It also positions you as an expert rather than someone who’s just sharing standard documentation on the screen. With data it’s the same, although here it’s about how the data was collected, or the story behind the data. So while you should share the most important parts of the code or the data, a technical presentation doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, just code or data. You might think that your personal experience doesn’t matter, but it’s what people would like to hear most!
When I was still in a technical role, I didn’t like presentations from people who just understood theoretically what the code was supposed to do — I liked the ones from people who actually did it in the field and had the ‘war stories’ to talk about. What also often works well to help engage people is a demo alongside the presentation. If you are brave enough to write code live during a demo in your presentation that earns you extra brownie points. Make sure to use code snippets though, the audience shouldn’t have to watch you type endless lines of code. You can also record a video of the demo to make it a bit less stressful.
If you want to get a discussion going with the audience you can talk about different ways in which you can build certain functionality, or different ways in which you can interpret the data. Ask the audience about their opinion or their experience. If you’re afraid no one will reply, then put someone in the audience who knows you are going to ask the question and has an answer to start things off. Don’t let the audience take over your presentation though: you’re in charge!
If you feel insecure then just remember that you always know more than the audience about the topic of your presentation. That’s the nice thing about a technical presentation, things are often relatively black or white, you’re not just sharing your opinion. Finally, always practise your presentation to make sure that you’ve got the timing right. Some people need a lot more slides to cover a 30-minute presentation than others — I always needed quite a lot of slides because I don’t talk that much. If it’s a longer presentation, it’s a good idea to leave 10 minutes at the end for questions. Don’t be surprised if no one in the audience has questions, it doesn’t mean they weren’t engaged. Some people feel more comfortable coming up to you after your presentation to ask their question one-on-one.
Mirjam van Olst is the Global Business Applications Talent Lead for Avanade.
CONTEXTUALISE THE DATA AND DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS, SAYS TRAINER RASHEED OGULARU
A presentation loaded with data can be dry and a challenge to present to other people, but it’s also an opportunity to shine and to help people understand the information you’re putting out there. Interpreting and translating data for different audiences is a key skill and one that is only going to become more and more important in the modern business world. The key to making technical presentations more effective and engaging is to turn them from a monologue into something more interactive.
There might be some pre-work to do in finding out who’s familiar and comfortable with the data and who is able to read it and in what format — considering that people have different learning styles. That may mean you need to think about presenting the data in different ways so that everyone can understand it – replacing columns with pie charts for more visually-oriented people, for example. It is vital because if people feel they can understand the data that will then also have the knock-on effect of giving them more confidence to ask questions in the presentation itself.
Find out how much detail your audience actually wants or is required — you can even get a bit of feedback from them on how they would like it presented too. Sometimes data is presented with a chart or whatever, and in a really abstract way. Start with the big picture to contextualise it and help ensure that everyone’s on the same page. Then move from that to translating that data into whatever its value is and what it means for the business so that they can understand and relate that to their work. In that way, you provide a doorway into the information, especially for non-technical people.
Finally, don’t be afraid to check in to make sure people are understanding the data and ask questions of your audience when you’re presenting. Otherwise, you could be sweating away, crunching all these numbers and find out nobody knows what to do with them at the end. Being more interactive does mean that you can’t hide behind the data or the charts, which can be a challenge if you’re a very technical person. It might not only help your audience to understand the data, but also help them to better appreciate your role and its value, because often non-technical people might not understand the work that a technical person is doing. In this way, the presentation can also have positive results for you in terms of your visibility and credibility in the team.
Rasheed Ogunlaru is a leadership coach, author of Soul Trader — Putting the Heart Back into Your Business and Life & Business Coach partner to the British Library Business & Intellectual Property Centre. www.rasaru.com
BE VERY CLEAR ON WHAT YOU NEED YOUR AUDIENCE TO KNOW — AND WHAT THEY WANT TO KNOW, SAYS PRESENTATION EXPERT SALLY KETTLE
This is a question I get asked a lot by people who have to present budgets or technical information and my first piece of advice is to use analogies, metaphors and personal experiences to help you convey the information: ‘Getting this data was like pulling teeth’, or, ‘To get to this figure we had to sail across the Atlantic, drop several nets and catch a tonne of fish, just to find this rare crustacean!’ Industry specific metaphors work well too, especially if they’re humorous. In this way, even though the data isn’t more interesting, the way you’ve told it is more interesting. Sharing your experiences around it can also bring it to life rather than just presenting the cold hard facts.
In the presentation, you can bring in other people and say, ‘How does this make you feel?’, or, ‘Can we see it as a potential?’, or even, ‘When I looked at this, I was nervous about presenting this to you because obviously, it’s not the figure we wanted’. Sometimes a short 10–15-minute presentation with no interaction can be better if you’re not confident around engaging your audience, but if you feel confident and know that engagement is not going to send you off track, then lengthen it slightly and invite questions to encourage people to ask around the figures.
Don’t put too much in — people aren’t going to take in everything, and depending on your audience some might be more likely to understand trends than specific data in the list. A good way of honing it down is to use the Pyramid Principle; start with one overall take-home point, and three major points below it that back it up and give you talking points and keep it at that. You can always add extra information if you need to with sheets to read beforehand or to take away after.
Finally, be clever about the actual presentation slides if you’re going to use them. Don’t put in a whole graph if there’s only one tiny bit you want them to see, and don’t give too much info on one slide, because people just can’t take it on board. Overall, be very clear about what you want them to hear — the sticky message of your presentation. What do you need them to remember? And likewise, what do they require? And build your presentation around that. They don’t care about everything; they just need what they need.
Presentation expert Sally Kettle is an everywoman trainer, inspirational speaker and author. http://www.sallykettle.com/
Are you an everywomanNetwork member with a workplace dilemma? Get in touch at [email protected] with ‘Ask the experts’ in the subject line.