This entry is the final part of a multi-post case study.
You’ve prepared your message. Now it is time to present your conclusions. This post looks at how you can do that effectively.
Build your message along the way
Ever experienced the night-before syndrome? It’s pretty common amongst consultants when they’re about to show their final deliverables… and amongst students when they face their finals, so you probably have. The good news is that you don’t have to experience the night-before syndrome anymore.
The best way to avoid it is to start building your final message straight from the beginning of your problem-solving process. We’ve seen in the previous post how you build your message starting with a storyboard. So you start building your message with your best guess of what the results of your analysis will be, and then you carry out the analysis. Either you were right in the first place, in which case your story stays the same, or you correct it. The point is that by starting early in the project you are never surprised by where you’re going, and you also have a clear idea of where each bit of analysis fit in your big picture.
Prepare your audience beforehand
Let’s look at the worst-case scenario: you walk into that executive room at the end of your three-month project to give your final conclusions. Everyone is smiling and in a good mood. You present the first slide of your executive summary, the one saying that delays in cable negotiations have cost us $3M over the past two years, only to hear one of the key audience member say: “actually that’s not true, my group just analyzed this and found that it was only $100k (or $7M)”. Even if your figure is the right one, you can be sure that you won’t reach your original goal for the presentation. In the best case the group will spend the next 20 minutes debating that point and evaluating who is better at doing internal analysis. In the worst case, you’re sent home with a “make sure you check your “facts” before your talk to us next time”.
The point is that your final presentation should be an anticlimax. By then, all your key audience members should agree with your premises (your situation, complication and key question) and know your conclusions. Ideally, they will agree with them. If they don’t, you should at least have found a common ground with these members before the presentation. This is where you need to consider the members of your audience one at a time and you should have given them personalized attention: how can you convince each one of them to your way?
In that sense, the final presentation should only be a milestone where you formalize agreements that you’ve obtained beforehand. Nothing more.
Give a good show
Having developed a robust story and prepared your audience you’re almost ready for the big day.
You’ll have adapted the length of your presentation so that your talk time is no more than half of your allotted time, to allow for questions. You’ll have checked the lighting and sound systems in the room. You’ll have arrived plenty of time before the scheduled start time to ensure all the technology works properly. You’ll have backed-up your slides on at least one other device (another computer, a USB key if there’s another computer available, or an iPod if you can connect it to the projector).
You’ll have rehearsed your message several times in front of a live audience. You’ll have asked them to check your tone and volume of voice, jokes (if any), and body language. You’ll be dressed appropriately. You’ll have found a way to project your material while spending most of your time facing your audience (either by having a computer in front of you that mirrors what you’re projecting behind your back, or by knowing your material well enough).
You’ll have prepared the last slide of your presentation to be a summary of your main points, ideally with your requests clearly visible (that way this slide will stay in front of your audience during the entire Q&A after your formal presentation and help you drive your key points home). You’ll have made a mental note of where you need to be along the presentation by when so that you’ll be sure to have enough time to cover your material. You’ll have identified which material you’ll be ready to omit if you’re only permitted to speak for a fraction of the original time.
Then, you’re prepared!
Remember that your recommendations are based on solid analysis. Remember that beyond the cold, hard facts, you’ve also covered the psychological and diplomatic side by preparing a message that will generate the right emotions. You’ve done solid work controlling everything that was under your control. Sure, it can always go sideways but you’ve done all you could to avoid it. So see this presentation as your chance to demonstrate how professional you’ve been. Presenting is the easy part; it should be fun. It should be enjoyable. So take a deep breath…
… and go get them.