Companies & Industries

Speaking of Business: Presentations


When the boss is your audience, and what to do when a team member's PowerPoint is less than powerful

You've got questions. We've got answers. This week we feature some frequently asked questions from business executives on communications topics. Executive communications coach Aileen Pincus supplies our answers:

I've gotten great responses on my presentations to clients, but something happens when I have to present to my boss. He tells me I'm not communicating well. I'm not sure what that means. I'm the same person as the one who gets the great reviews from others. Is this just a personality clash, a style difference, or is there really something going on that I'm not seeing? How do I convince him I really am better than what he's apparently seeing?

Well, as Will Rogers once said, "You can be on the right track and still be run over." Your boss has plainly told you your presentations aren't pleasing him, so whether they're working in other venues isn't the point. See if you can discuss with him, before the next presentation, what he expects to hear from you. Take that feedback and build the presentation around his key points. What he may be reacting to is the content of what you're saying, not the style in which you say it. "Poor communication" is a catchall phrase that might simply mean he's disappointed with what he's hearing.

You don't want just to repeat the points he says he wants you to address, but do make sure each is addressed. When you offer your own conclusions or ideas, try explaining them from his vantage point. For instance, instead of saying "Last month's sales figures are holding steady," try "I know you've been concerned with the trend of these figures, Al. As you can see here, the good news is we've stopped the falloff and are holding steady."

Stick to two or three key points, adding some support for each, then moving to a strong conclusion—all within a relatively tight time frame. Err on the side of brevity, with strong, direct, and shorter statements so you avoid rambling. Leave plenty of time for Q&As, being sure to ask along the way if you've addressed his concerns.

Try to get some feedback from a co-worker or another third party to find out if your perception of your presentation style is accurate. You may just find some minor adjustments will make a big difference.

We have a problem with one of our team members. While his expertise is top-notch, his presentation skills are horribly weak. He mumbles and stumbles, and he admits he hates the idea of orally explaining himself. Is it all right to add his section as a written report? If we do that, how do we explain it to him? His particular skill set isn't easy to replace, so we have to find a way to work this out. Are we stuck with poor performances?

The good news is that presentation is a learned skill. Your colleague, I assure you, has more ability than he or you realize. If his expertise is, as you say, top-notch, then he just needs help learning to display that expertise so that others can appreciate it.

My guess is that something about what he is saying is giving him discomfort. He may be struggling with figuring out what the audience needs to hear or how best to phrase those findings. This is where you, his colleagues, can lend a hand. Help him first establish some high level, key messages. These need to be in his own words so that he's comfortable saying them, but tailored so that this particular audience can understand and appreciate their significance. Sometimes all that takes is an outside ear.

You'd be amazed at the difference confidence can make in a delivery. If he's confident about what he's saying, the audience will see it. Help him display that confidence by pointing out anything that might get in the way, such as the lack of eye contact with the audience or distracting, repetitive phrases or movement. Consider recording a practice with the entire team to avoid singling him out and making him feel still more self-conscious. Do what you can to be supportive and reinforce improvement. Remember, what he knows is too valuable to you to lose. The rest can be acquired.

Check out The Silent Language of Success and The Seven Keys to Perfect Presentations for other helpful tips on presentation skills.

If you've got a question on public speaking, or a communications issue, send them to: apincus@thepincusgroup.com.

Aileen Pincus writes the "Speaking of Business" column for BusinessWeek.com's Managing channel. She is president of The Pincus Group Inc., an executive firm coaching firm that offers training in presentation, speech, media, and crisis communications.

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