What makes an outstanding technical presentation versus a mediocre one? Chris Van Buiten, VP of Innovation at Sikrosky Aircraft Corporation, has a definite opinion on that subject. Chris was the guest speaker at a two-day presentation skills training workshop for technical professionals that I facilitated for Sikorsky engineers. My goal with this training was to help wean them off of their technical crutches and reduce their PowerPoint clutter so that they could become high engagement presenters able to inform and motivate their audiences to action.
Chris is considered by many in his industry to a best-in-class example of an outstanding technical presenter. See if you agree by watching his video from his 2010 Heli-Expo presentation in Houston, Texas.
Communication is an enormous differentiator in your career
I invited Chris to join us during lunch on the first day of the workshop and to share his insights on the do’s and don’ts of presenting. While he spoke, I took copious notes and marveled at his authentic presentation mastery.
Chris’ opening remarks were to congratulate the engineers on taking the time to take this training workshop. He said emphatically that “your ability to communicate is an enormous differentiator in your career.” It’s not enough just to be a technical subject matter expert; you must be able to effectively communication your ideas to many different kinds of people and audiences.
“To distill the complex data into nuggets of relevance, that’s your job; that’s why you get paid.” With that comment, Chris had our full attention.
“Showing a structured thought process and empathy for your audience is what a presenter must do. You must care about what they care about and give them what they need.”
How dare you show me that slide
Chris shared a memory of a presentation that a colleague made to one of the top brass at Sikorsky some four years ago. The presenter had shown a PowerPoint slide that was so cluttered with data and hard to understand, the decision maker said “How dare you show me that slide.” Chris explained that the slide demonstrated that the presenter had not taken the time to think through the meaning of the information and left that work for his audience to do. Not acceptable.
Your job is to distill complex data into actionable nuggets of relevance
Chris repeatedly used the word “distill” throughout his talk with us. That led me to look up the definition of this commonly used verb. Here is what Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary has to say about the word distill:
to extract the essence of
Definition of dis-till
[transitive verb – a verb that requires both a direct subject and one or more objects]
When I think of distilling, I remember a tour of a maple sugar house in Vermont some years ago. The distillation process is what takes tree sap and turns into the delicious “liquid gold” that goes on pancakes. I certainly would not want to do all the work required to convert that raw material into the finished product. That is the job of the sugarmaker, the title of the person who makes the maple syrup. The same applies to the presenter. It is our job to distill all the raw data and convert it into something the audience can use and enjoy if possible.
Don’t make your audience word so hard
Chris advised his engineering colleagues to make their briefings (their term for presentation) more about you, the presenter, than about your slides. “Don’t make the audience work so hard. Shift the focus to you and your message.”
Here are 10 tips from Chris to help you learn how to do become a more effective presenter:
- Tell the story. Most presenters get so tangled up in their content and the design of their charts, graphs and slides that they miss what is really important. Get to the story – the meaning of your data.
- Give the answer upfront. Don’t make them wait until the end of your presentation to hear your key message. Say it in the first few minutes.
- Prioritize your slides. Your first 4 slides should deliver 80% of your punch. Know which slide is the most important of all. Be able to get to it quickly.
- Simplify your charts. Don’t confuse them with quad charts (4 in 1 charts) or other overwhelming visual aids. Use pictures/images and a few words to support the points that you will make verbally as the speaker.
- Create an effective handout. Remember your PowerPoint presentation should never used as your handout. Never distribute them before your presentation. Why not save paper, time and effort and create greater value for your audience by creating a leave-behind that includes more detail than you were able to cover in your presentation. Think report, not slideument.
- Preparation is a big deal. Rehearsal will give you confidence. Prepare your opening and closing remarks. Practice saying them out loud, standing up (not just in quietly in your head or flipping through your slides/notes).
- Deliver the heat. Know when to turn on the passion and put more energy into your presentation delivery. That’s how you will capture and hold their attention.
- Focus on 2-3 take-away points. That’s as much as your audience can handle.
- Choose your delivery approach. You need to factor in the density of your message with your presentation approach. If you are presentation to your board of directors, every word matters. You might consider scripting your message and reading from your script. Of course, your delivery must be passionate and not robotic. Your audience sees you reading from your notes, but they must feel your message.
- Editor’s comment: a great example of this can be seen in a TED.com video of Eve Ensler “Suddenly My Body.” She speaks from the podium, and has pages of scripted narrative, but her delivery is extraordinary. Do you think she practiced and rehearsed? You bet she did. Her performance shows!
- When they say YES, stop talking. Don’t continue to explain or present more detail. They already bought your idea. Don’t un-sell it with more blah-blah-blah.
Persuasion is inserting your ideas into their brains willingly
“What’s the value of a good idea if you can’t communicate it?” asks Chris Van Buiten
“The ultimate in communication is having your customer tell your story. If they can repeat it, adopt it and own it, then it becomes their idea. That’s when you win as a presenter!”
“Presentation is synthesis: actionable nuggets, things that our clients and customers can understand and act upon.”
For more information about the technical presentation workshops, classes and coaching available from Kathy McAfee, please contact her at (860) 408-0033 or Kathy@AmericasMarketingMotivator.com