I recently judged a case competition at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, where I’m an adjunct professor. The competition was part of the residency program of the school’s Online Master of Science in Finance, a fantastic program that gives finance professionals the skills they need to become industry leaders.
Watching 15 different groups present the exact same case was a great study in effective group presentations. And the timing was perfect; my colleague Christine Clapp of Spoken with Authority had just written an article for The Toastmaster magazine on the same topic – read that article for more information on developing (as well as presenting) your group presentation.
Here are some of my takeaways which are just as relevant in the corporate boardroom as they are in the classroom.
1. Open with energy: You dictate the energy in the room within the first 10 seconds, so make sure that the first person to open the presentation has high energy and connects with the audience. This same person should close the presentation with that same energy, creating a well-rounded presentation and setting up the stage for next steps.
2. Practice your transitions: When you’re presenting as a group, how you transition from one person to the next is really important. The best presenters introduced their colleagues by saying, “And now Steve is going to talk about our recommendations.” Then, Steve would say “Thanks, Jennifer. So Jennifer walked us through the points to keep in mind. Now I will…” which gave a nice flow to the presentation and kept up momentum from one speaker to the next.
3. Always be on: Even when you’re not presenting, you are still “on stage” so to speak. If you’re standing off to the side, be attentive and stay focused on the person speaking or on the audience – not on your phone or tablet. Make sure you’re also not standing in the light of the projector. Every moment in the room, you are representing the group.
4. Avoid group fillers: I’ve noticed that people in the same office tend to use the same filler words, such as: sort of, kind of, right? – passing around filler words in what one colleague calls “linguistic contagion.” Avoid picking up those words from your colleagues and remember to pause and breathe instead.
5. Speak to the audience, not to the slides: When presenting material developed by a group, we tend to defer to the slides over the audience. Sometimes it’s because only one person on the team developed the slides at the last minute. Whatever the reason, make sure that your focus is squarely on the audience. You can have a printout of the slides in front of you or a confidence monitor – but remember that you need to make a compelling case to the people in front of you, not to the slides behind you.
6. Don’t just show the numbers, talk about what they mean: At one of my workshops in New York, a participant from a major bank mentioned the importance of interpreting the numbers, not just listing them. She said, “I don’t just show the numbers, I tell the client why those numbers are important and what they mean for the client.” Make your presentation personal to the audience by talking about the WHAT and also the WHY.
7. Speak in a conversational tone: When presenting with a team, I’ve noticed people have a tendency to either speak too formally (full of jargon) or too casually (“Hey guys”). Find a natural tone that sounds both professional to the audience and natural to you. Use clear words and real-world examples, especially if you can include a personal example, such as, “If you’re from California like me, then you’ll know…”
8. Leave time for Q+A: We all know that speeches with slides take longer than speeches without, especially in a group. Remember to give yourself plenty of time to prepare and always run through the full presentation as a group with slides to time yourself. The best presentations keep to time and leave time for substantive Q+A.
9. Have a clear ask: The best presenters have a clear call to action, request, or recommendation for the audience. You can either state it up front or use it as your conclusion (ideally both) but always make sure it’s clear and clearly supported by your substance. The more specific you are in your “ask,” the easier you make it for the audience to say “yes.”
So the next time you have to present with a group, keep these ideas in mind. If you implement them successfully, you will give a powerful and momentum-building presentation that spurs your audience to take action.