PRODUCTHEAD: Presenting to inform, educate and entertain (communication toolkit #5)
PRODUCTHEAD is a regular newsletter of product management goodness,
curated by Jock Busuttil.
subterranean homesick product manager
Story structure and the right content give your presenting more impact
Try to create presentations that captivate, not subdue
A perception audit helps narrow the gap between how you perceive yourself and how others see you
Good breathing technique when speaking both calms you and produces a better sound
a favour: please share this with other product people
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After a brief COVID-related interlude last week, I am pleased to return with the conclusion of my mini-series on essential communication skills for product managers. Last time we looked at efficient note-taking. Today is the turn of presenting.
Presenting well is as much about good preparation as it is about delivery. Because of the pandemic forcing everyone online, you’ve probably had to watch more slide-driven presentations than could be described as healthy.
Do you find it difficult to recall many presenters slides? I do. Even if I focus solely on the ones covering topics I actually wanted to hear about,there are few memorable ones.
My theory is that most slide decks look similar, so my brain helpfully filters out what it considers repetitive noise. It’s the same mechanism that prevents your perfect recall of every single time you brushed your teeth.
Slideware designs generally fall into one of a few categories:
The crappy business slides #
You know, the ones that look like they were put together using the default PowerPoint template from Microsoft Office 2003, possibly with some kind of misguided gradient colour scheme. Bullet points everywhere. Company logos with their aspect ratio stretched because nobody bothered to update the template when monitors went widescreen. That kind of horror.
The overly slick business slides #
Beloved of consultants, these are the ones that are meant to communicate professionalism and great competence. Instead they leave the audience wondering how much of the consultant’s fee came from the amount of time they clearly spent on those whizzy, but wholly unnecessary animations. If I wanted to watch content-free animation, I’d watch Family Guy.
The unrelated photo slideshow #
Used by some speakers more effectively than others, the purpose of these slides is simply to provide an attractive backdrop without distracting the audience from the main event: the speaker. These types of presentation are more of a monologue than anything else. How well it works on the day depends entirely on the skill of the speaker to engage an audience for the whole of their talk.
The hand-drawn ones #
Arguably the slides you’re most likely to recall at any point after the conclusion of the presentation. They stand out from the crowd precisely because they’re not coming from a template. Drawing your slides is a gutsy move, so is usually only attempted by people who can actually draw well enough to make their slides both informative and entertaining. Also, I love a good (or bad) visual pun.
Inform, educate and entertain #
Even if you’re providing a run-of-the-mill quarterly sales update, it’s your responsibility as a presenter to inform, educate and entertain.
Whether you use slides or not, you need to tell an engaging story, which needs to be pitched appropriately for your audience. I’ve covered writing for the needs of your audience in an earlier edition. When presenting, the same consideration applies to the words you say out loud and use in your slideware.
When you tell a story purely to entertain, aside from having a good story to tell in the first place, you’re mainly bothered about helping the audience keep up with your narration so they literally don’t lose the plot.
But when there are also facts, figures, and important action points for the audience to retain after the presentation has ended, you have to think about the way your audience will find it easiest to understand the points you’re trying to get across. Television newsreaders often face this challenge.
Emotional engagement #
Some people need emotional engagement with the material. As an example, if you were sharing findings from your user research, you can add emotional weight to your findings by including soundbites or video clips (with consent) from the users you worked with to illustrate how they felt while using your product.
Seeing the big picture #
Others need the big picture to contextualise the points your making. As another example, if you’re pitching your product strategy to the senior management team, can you show how it fits in with the organisation’s overall strategy, and helps it to achieve its broader goals? You may even need to break down how your product strategy fits in with each department head’s respective area of concern.
Interrogating the evidence #
Others again need detail and evidence before they’ll accept the headline point. Think of them like a judge in a court of law. They’re not going to take what you’re saying at face value, they’ll want to see the evidence that underpins it and make their own judgement based on the established facts. It’s more a question of diligence rather than trust. For these people, you’ll probably need to brief them individually in advance or prepare a handout, ensuring they have time to process it.
You can present for only as long as you can keep the audience engaged. If you’re a stand-up comedian in your spare time and can spin a yarn to a rapt audience for over an hour, then by all means go that long. Otherwise, get your point across as succinctly and memorably as possible and sit back down again.
For you this week #
This week I’ve collected some helpful articles covering everything from how you design your slideware to how you project your voice more effectively. May your presentations inform, educate and entertain.
Speak to you soon,
what to think about this week
There are so many ways to tell a story. In a business context, it’s just as important as in film or entertainment to think about the way you structure your story and select the right pieces of information for maximum impact.
If you’ve ever frozen in front of a presentation, remember, you’re here to do three things:
1. Make a point
2. Make people care about your point
3. Ask for something
We’ll focus on your point—how to get to it, how to structure it, and how to design it.
[Mark Pollard / Quartz at Work]
“The way I look at it now, is we need to make presentations more like TV shows” says Nicole Herskowitz, general manager of Microsoft Teams.
It’s one thing to make the tech more like TV but that only works if the speakers are more like anchors. It’s time to learn from TV anchors how to make online speaking clear and compelling?
[Jacqui Harper / theHRDirector]
Pages credits his passion for the art form as the greatest contributor to his success as a storyteller. But he also has practical advice for speaking clearly and capturing emotion with your voice. These public speaking tips won’t only ensure a clean, crisp recording, but also help you speak confidently whether you’re presenting in a meeting or delivering a speech to a crowd.
All product managers will need to stand up and present to others at some point. Some people are less comfortable giving a presentation than others; that’s natural. Either way, you won’t be helping yourself (or your audience) if your slide deck is atrocious. So here are my 6 tips for presenting slides that don’t suck.
[I Manage Products]
Closely related to presenting well is the art of public speaking. While not everyone is thrilled at the prospect at standing up and speaking in front of colleagues or strangers, it is a skill that you can acquire. As you become more proficient, you’ll be able to control your nerves better before a presentation and you may even come to enjoy it. Here are some suggested tips:
[I Manage Products]
When we become more worried about risk, four unintended things also tend to happen: bottlenecking, erosion of trust, ossification of process, and a risk appetite that tends towards zero. Here’s what you can do about them.
[I Manage Products]
How can product management fit into an agency business model when requirements or specifications are often contractually set in stone by the client up-front? Spoiler alert: not easily
[I Manage Products]
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PRODUCTHEAD is a newsletter for product people of all varieties, and is lovingly crafted from a slew of positive COVID-19 tests.
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by Jock Busuttil
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