When you step into a meeting room to propose a business case, or deliver a critical speech to an audience that will evaluate you, there are proven tactics that can help you be more prepared, confident, and in command of your material.
The Pitch Deck / Presentation
Ultimately, you will want to embody your proposal in a single presentation. Be sure to leverage your understanding of Persuasion, Narrative and Visual design to help you craft your final presentation.
Legendary Apple evangelist, Guy Kawasaki uses his 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint. It’s quite simple: a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.
This is a good rule of thumb and a great goal. So what are the candidate slides you should use to make your business case?
NOTE: These suggestions are DIFFERENT than Guy Kawasaki’s classic list of 10 slides. This list of suggested slides is specific to Risk-Based solutions and business cases.
- Title. Give your proposal a memorable headline and title. Use this slide as the way point to explain:
- who you are,
- your authority/expertise, and
- the range of other experts who helped formulate this proposal.
- Big Idea. Explicitly provide the 150-word (or less) description of your big idea. It summarizes the Drivers, Solution, Impact, Approach and Results in a compelling narrative. This is the one place where you “break the rule” about reading slides. It is OK to read aloud this big idea.This 150-word overview will serve as a single rally point around which you organize your presentation; and the point that you come back to if things get caught in the weeds during a Q&A session. It should elevate the discussion to the points the matter most.
- Drivers (Why Now?) Explain the drivers behind why this solution is needed; and why it is needed now. You might also use this slide to explain the problem or challenge. Your solution might be required because of:
- Changes in trends or competitive environment
- Internal changes in business model or economics
- Specific problems / challenges that require action
- Solution (What?) Explain what the solution looks like including the structure of people, processes and technology. This is almost like a “mini business model” for what you will propose. This is good time to vocalize the other options that you considered and, at a high-level, why they are inferior to your proposed solution.
- Impact. Explain how the solution connects with and impacts the existing business strategy including:
- Mission, vision and values of the company
- Business objectives (e.g., economic, customer, internal process, capacity objectives)
- Key initiatives and projects (e.g., new products, new markets)
- Key stakeholders (both internal and external)
- Approach (How?) Provide an outline of how the solution will be developed, launched and operated over time. Make sure to include key resources and dependencies.
- Timeline (When?) Elaborate when the various components of the solution will be developed, launched and operated.
- Team (Who?) Explain who will be involved in the process and take ownership over key elements of the solution and the process.
- Economics. Explain the economics and ROI that justify this solution and how it should be judged over time.
- Summary and Call To Action. Make sure that you have a compelling wrap-up to your presentation. It is a good idea to revisit, at least vocally, the big idea and drive home why your solution matters.
Remember that this presentation is just the tip of the iceberg. You still have in your files all of the supporting analysis that led you to this proposed solution.
Absolutely have this information handy when you go into the room so that you can use it during Q&A. However, be careful to not create slides for everything you want in the room. A PowerPoint slide with 6 point font displaying financial analysis won’t be helpful.
In person presenting
Top universities conducted innovative studies into the dynamics of body language, neuroendocrine effects, and audience perception, and we now have answers for the following questions:
- “How can I improve buy-in when presenting a business case?”
- “How can I appear more confident when speaking?”
- “What can I do to better influence my audience?”
Power of posture
“The last thing you want to do before going into an important meeting is to contract your body into a non-power pose.” – Amy Cuddy, Harvard Business School professor
A peacock flourishing its tail. A gorilla bulging its chest. A cat arching its back. Throughout the animal kingdom, there are many examples of expansive behaviors designed to make an individual look bigger, more dominant, more powerful.
It turns out that humans also have the ability to portray levels of confidence. They can change their energy level, enthusiasm, and body language to appear more powerful and competent to other people, even if they don’t really feel it.
One study performed at Boston College measured the results of 180 venture capitalists who were pitching to investors. The lucky few that received funding shared two behavioral traits: enthusiasm and a lack of awkwardness. These speakers stood out from competitors because they had expressed excitement about their project and demonstrated confidence. In the survey results, the audience ranked these two key qualities as more important than the content. (Remember that point we raised in the introduction? The secret to convincing is conviction.)
Another study performed by Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy investigated how non-verbal changes in body posture can influence people’s perceptions. The experiment involved asking subjects to sit or stand in expansive “power” poses for 2 minutes, stretching out their arms, leaning back in a chair and crossing their legs up on the desk, leaning back and folding their arms behind their heads, or standing with hands on hips in a classic, confident superhero pose.
They were not told why.
The other group was asked to sit or stand in “non-power” poses: contracting their bodies to appear smaller, pulling in their arms and shoulders, hunching their back, protectively touching their neck or face. They also did this for 2 minutes, not knowing why.
The results astounded the research team.
When saliva samples were studied (taken before and after each posing experiment), the types of body pose chemically affected each person’s level of testosterone and cortisol.
The group that had performed the “power poses” for 2 minutes had higher levels of testosterone (a dominance hormone) and lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone). The group that had exercised “non-power poses” for 2 minutes had exactly the opposite chemical reaction.
The most effective leaders typically have higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol. This means they are dominant, but also resistant to stress: both confident and calm.
Increase your energy
Knowing the science, you can take some simple actions to increase your success before heading into a high-stakes meeting:
Before the meeting:
- Practice different power poses (in private). You only need 2 minutes to spark a physiological change. By increasing your testosterone and lowering your cortisol, you will appear more confident and calm in the meeting.
- Be expansive, stretching out into the space. Before walking into a meeting, raise your arms in victory. Lean back in a chair and put your feet up on a desk or table. Fold your arms in a relaxed manner behind your head like a movie director. Stand legs apart and hands-on-hips like Superman or Wonder Woman.
During the meeting:
- Don’t power pose during the meeting. “Kicking back” and casually putting your feet up on the meeting table will not work at a business presentation. However, to preserve the expanded body language, continue to outstretch your arms, place your hand on a prop such as a whiteboard, or if seated, rest both arms evenly on the arms of the chair. The idea is to remain open and expanded, versus contracted and tight.
- Do not over-dominate the meeting. Although you can still be expansive, over-dominating the space will come across more as “stealing the space” in the midst of decision makers who have more power than you. Be expansive, but not overbearing.
- Fake it ‘till you make it. As Cuddy points out, even if you do not feel particularly confident or calm, pretending like you do will have the same physiological effect. Her advice: Repeat the process until you genuinely become it.
One Minute of Speaking = One Hour of Prep
“It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” – Mark Twain
Now that you know the power poses heading into the meeting, the rest will depend on your mastery and delivery of the content.
Communications expert Nancy Duarte estimates that standard prep time for professional speakers is approximately one hour for every one minute of speech. For an 18-minute speech, like a TED talk, she calculates that 18 hours of practice is needed, not including time for slide development. High-stakes meetings justifiably require more work.
Here are some of her tips:
- Practice out loud. Get up on your feet and perform your presentation over and over. Practice anywhere, any time. Listen to the cadence of your sentences and adjust wording as needed.
- Find an audience. Test your material and get constructive feedback from people you trust.
- Videotape yourself. This will enable you to glimpse the audience’s experience of your presentation, and you can make improvements as needed.
- Stay on time. Practice with a clock, and perform the last few runs with the clock counting down to zero. Make sure you do not speak over the time frame. Calculate roughly where you are at intervals. (Duarte places a mental “time-stamp” during her speeches every 6 minutes). In fact, for business meetings, a better rule is to finish 5 minutes early.
- Practice with the slides. Keep in mind that the slides are merely “digital scenery,” and that you, as speaker, should remain the focus of the presentation.
Above all, when delivering your material, remember why you were passionate about it in the first place. Don’t allow nerves or doubts to block your ability to feel your purpose. As Professor Cuddy says, “If you believe in your idea and can communicate this belief, that’s what really matters.”
In the Room
The day of your presentation, arrive at the conference room early to set up your equipment and practice with the remote. Move furniture around as needed so everyone will be able to see you and what you’re showing them.
Whether you sit or stand, position yourself next to the screen, not next to the projector, You don’t want to give people whiplash looking from you to the screen — and or sit on the left side of the screen; English-speaking audiences read left to right, so it’s a more natural movement for executives to follow along. If you have members of your team joining you, have them sit on the other side of the screen, across from you.
Don’t Recite; Speak
In any presentation, you have three sources of information: what you say, what you put on a slide, and what you hand out to the audience on paper. Understand the distinctions among the three.
For example, do not read aloud the material on your slides; the audience can do that themselves. Whatever handouts you do use should not be the same as your slides; slides visually represent the points you are making, and should have little text.
Handouts are different. They should be given at the conclusion. They are a concise summary of your request, with perhaps one or two of your strongest metrics or charts. One rule of thumb: slides should not be able to stand alone; handouts should.
You’re trying to convince audience rather than the screen, so save your eye contact for the humans in the room. Spread that eye contact around instead of zeroing in on one person.
Speak a little slower than normal, but be sure to use some inflection to avoid sounding like a robot. Let your audience know you’ve planned for questions at the end so you don’t get derailed on extraneous points.
And above all, no handouts at the start of your presentation. No one will resist peeking at it, diverting their attention from you. Keep any handouts in a folder and distribute them at the end. Or if you want to walk them through a particularly dense slide, hand out just that sheet when you come to it.
Don’t end your remarks with whatever is on the last slide; end with a brief recap and your call to action. Then thank them for their time as a clear signal you’re actually finished, and ask for questions. Again, after the last question, repeat your call to action.
And it’s worth stressing again: don’t let the meeting run late. The management team isn’t going to think kindly upon you or your request if you take up more of their time than promised, and make them late for their next appointment.
What about Questions?
Questions during the meeting will be your first challenge. The tough ones come in a few categories. Prepare for these in advance.
Maybe the most dreaded is the question you don’t know how to answer. When you get one of them, don’t pretend that you do know the answer. Ask the person to repeat it, then admit you don’t know. Next, offer to provide an answer later on. This cuts short the difficult situation, gives the questioner the promise of an answer, and invites you to follow up with that person later.
You may also get a question that lacks an answer. Typically this is from someone who, in the guise of asking a question, is making a statement. If you get this one, let them be heard and perhaps even restate it (if you can.) But, again, don’t try to answer it.
Then there's the endless questioner. This can be a stalling tactic designed to keep anything from being decided. If someone asks a question that you answer well enough and then follows up with more than one or two more, you may have encountered a staller. Again, offer to give more information after the meeting. Then call on the next questioner.