The Always-Ready Presenter

What can go wrong?  When it comes to presentations, lots of things do. And no matter how well designed your (Powerpoint) presentation is, nor how well rehearsed you are, if you didn’t anticipate a likely problem, you won’t have a contingency plan in place to still deliver a perfect presentation. 

Today, all presentations being delivered during the pandemic are virtual, you should expect some form of technology challenge. As a veteran presenter and coach/mentor to thousands of other presenters, most can be anticipated.

Last week, an Investment Banker asked me to provide feedback on three investor presentations they were considering. After the session ended, with a few challenges (luckily none major), I started thinking about solutions for next time.

In the early days of “slide” presentations, it was likely that something might go wrong with a projector. Conference Centers usually had back up light bulbs that could be used if not extra projectors. Copies of presentations were printed not just to give as handouts after the presentation, but to substitute if the presentation couldn’t be projected for some reason. 

Today is no different. People might not be familiar with the software platform (e.g., in this case Zoom) and not know how to let someone else be a host or show a video with or without its soundtrack. Monitors might not work; computers may crash; internet connections may go down. Outside events – everything from a baby crying a dog yelping or ConEd digging up the street below – may interfere. In my case, I set up a second laptop in my home office as a back-up the very first week, and created PDFs that could quickly be emailed

If a technology problem exists, and you solve it, as a presenter you now have a secondary problem: less time to make the presentation. In the pre-pandemic world, I led an investor/public relations firm. Most of my clients were allotted 30 minutes for investor conference presentations. Early on, I learned that conference centers have fire-drills, terrorist threats, etc., and they interfere with your time slot. In the Zoom presentation world m the same thing happens: we lose time fixing the technology.  For most 30 minute slots, clients develop 25 minute presentations, and use the last 5 minutes for Q&A. So what do most people do when they now only have 15 minutes?  They squeeze the full presentation into the shortened time-frame, leaving everyone – audience and presenter – unsatisfied. The mission is to impress and influence the audience, not do a speed-racing-data-dump.

We solved this problem by creating an Always-Prepared Presenter: after the main presentation was designed a scaled-down version (usually half-the time) was designed and the presenter prepared for both. This way, if we lost 15 minutes, we could present a complete, though abridged, presentation. The presenters often left the meeting as a “star”, because he/she was only one who delivered a properly paced presentation.  The contrast with your competitors can win the day!

So, consider creating shorter versions of the presentation, to stay in control of your message and build rapport with your audience, just in case the technology creates a time problem!

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