Broadly speaking, a presentation is any more or less formal talk in which the speaker presents the information, ideas, facts or thoughts in a structured manner. In a way, it is similar to a speech, with the difference being that its goal is not so much to move the listeners or influence them emotionally but to inform them about something. Also, unlike speeches, presentations are often accompanied with additional materials, e.g., slides or even videos.
In management training, presentations are used to teach students how to gather, process, analyze and present relevant data to their superiors and/or clients. A manager’s job in almost any industry involves presenting their ideas, reports and suggestions to executives, shareholders and direct bosses, pitching their ideas for new campaigns to them and making sure they are informative and persuasive. Therefore, learning how to prepare and deliver a strong and effective presentation is a crucial part of any manager’s training.
In this guide, we will cover, step by step, how to build up your presentation from the ground up and prepare to deliver it.
Sometimes, your instructor assigns you a clear-cut topic for your presentation (after all, in real business environment you usually have to deal with the existing facts and cannot just make a presentation about anything). Sometimes you are allowed more creativity – for example, if your presentation concerns a new practice, policy or campaign you want to propose or some change in the existing operation of a company you deem necessary to improve its effectiveness. If you have any degree of freedom, this phase should move through the following steps:
Eventually, you should end up with something along these lines:
A management presentation is a primarily data-based and data-driven affair. You should have all the necessary facts, statistics and examples at your disposal before you start composing your narrative. Even if you end up not using some (or even the majority) of them, you still should know them like the back of your hand and have them at the ready during the presentation – your audience may have additional questions, and being able to answer them immediately will create a positive impression.
Before you proceed any further, write down the thesis statement of your presentation. Express the main thought or idea behind your presentation in a single relatively short sentence. Make sure your thesis is:
Make sure you understand the difference between the topic and the thesis statement. The topic is what your presentation is about. The thesis statement is a declarative sentence stating your take on the subject.
In a presentation, you should inform your audience about a certain situation (idea, principle, etc.) and usually sway them to a particular position concerning the topic. It is important to structure your argument in as clear and straightforward a way as possible – you will have to deliver the presentation orally, which means that the audience will not be able to double back to check something they did not understand. Even with the help of visual aids, getting your point across may be challenging.
This is why it is so important to single out a few most important points to cover and make sure they fit in your overall argument. Make a list of everything you learned about the topic that may be worth mentioning. Then go through this list and pick a few (the number depends on the amount of time you will have) most crucial ones.
Just like any other academic assignment, a management presentation needs an outline if you want to write it well. Structurally, it is surprisingly similar to most essays:
Decide what you are going to mention in each part beforehand and make sure the segments follow each other in a logical manner and form a cohesive whole.
This is a curious point that requires careful balancing. On the one hand, very few people are any good at off-the-cuff delivery, which means that if you are insufficiently prepared, do not write a detailed enough script and do not practice it, you are likely to stumble halfway through and/or mix things up. On the other hand, writing a script that is too detailed and trying to follow it word for word can lead to a situation in which you stumble anyway but are not flexible enough to proceed using different words or covering things in a different order.
The right way is to focus on the general flow of your delivery rather than trying to memorize your script by heart. This way you will both sound natural and be ready to distractions.
Introduction is the first few sentences that explain what you are going to talk about. Look for a strong start (a “hook”, i.e., something that will immediately attract the audience’s attention and force them to listen on). It may be an interesting fact, an unexpected statistic – the more unusual, the better. Follow it with a short explanation of the structure of your presentation – as the audience does not have the chance to read the text of your presentation, they may get confused, especially if you have many points to cover.
For each of the main points, write a topic sentence and a few (usually 2 to 4) supporting ideas or arguments. Try turning each of the topic sentences into a mini hook – i.e., do not just blandly introduce a new idea, but do it in a manner that immediately forces the audience to jerk back from their phones to make sure they heard you correctly. When you cover the supporting ideas, tie them to your slides (or whatever visual aids you use).
Conclusion summarizes what you said so far and invites questions from the audience. However, if you simply say ‘In my presentation, I did the following…’, your audience probably will not be very excited. Look for an interesting, powerful way to finish. Make a conclusion that does not immediately follow from what you said before and explain how you reached it. Word it in a way that will get the attention of your audience back to what you have been saying. In other words, finish the presentation on as strong a note as you started it.
A presentation is not a speech – you talk about facts, and factual information on management and business operations can be too complex and multi-layered to deliver it in words only. Therefore, you can and are expected to augment your delivery with photographs, graphs, infographics, charts, large copies of marketing documents and so on. The easiest and most common way to do it is to prepare a slideshow using one of many free or paid tools to ensure that slides replace each other in a seamless manner. Add keywords to them to emphasize the most important points, but keep them few – this way the audience will not get distracted from your own words. Make sure the slides follow each other in the right order and practice talking in conjunction with them – it can take some getting used to.
Doing a dry run of your presentation before you actually deliver it will help you discover potential flaws, weak points, inconsistencies and things you have to brush up before you go before a real audience. You can do it in front of an empty room, but preferably ask a couple of friends to listen to you. You need feedback, not just your own impressions of how well you did.
When doing this mock delivery, practice maintaining eye contact with your audience without focusing on individual people. This shows that you are comfortable in your role and confident about what you are talking about.
If necessary, stop in the middle and discuss your presentation with your test audience. Incorporate their advice into what and how you deliver. However, you should make at least one full run, from the beginning to the end, to see if the presentation works as a cohesive whole. Practice until you are sure you can diver the entire presentation without stumbling or looking at cards or slides.
Your instructor should have told you how much time you will have to deliver your presentation. If he/she did not, clarify this point, because you do not want to be cut short when you still did not deliver even a half of what you wanted to say. When practicing delivery, time how much it takes and whether it fits in the allotted time.
If it turns out that your presentation is longer than allowed, cut the least important fragments of texts and superfluous slides. Do not worry – as long as you leave the most crucial information, your presentation will work fine. Moreover, focusing on a few important point usually makes a better impression on the audience than spreading yourself thin over a dozen incidental details.
If your presentation turns out to be shorter than the time limit, do not try to pad it out – if you are able to drive your point home, the audience will appreciate your conciseness. If necessary, extra time can be used for questions and discussion.
Using clear, simple and straightforward language is important in all types of academic writing, but especially so when you deal with presentations, especially in business- and management-related ones. Remember – you will have to make yourself understood the first time around. Choose shorter and simple words, avoid long multi-clause sentences, do not use words that are easy to mishear.
Writing a management presentation can be challenging, but we believe that this guide can help you deal with most of the potential difficulties!