By Kevin Lerner
This is part 1 of a series that looks at Presentation procrastinators.
Someone recently asked me, “how do you manage an executive who has to give a presentation [for a conference or meeting] but isn’t meeting the deadlines or giving you the critical information to create their PowerPoint graphics?”
“That’s happy hour conversation,” I mused, confessing that I’ve endured plenty of sleepless nights frantically working alongside a C-Level executive to help bring their PowerPoint presentation to the finish line…at the 11th hour.
But then I shared my belief that nearly everyone is a “presentation procrastinator.” Most executives have as much enthusiasm about their business presentation as high school kids have about their algebra homework. When tasked with a presentation, most professionals put it off, often waiting until the last minute to finally get serious about it.
So this “last minute crunch” is just the nature of creating deadline-driven presentations. In my 20 years of presentation development, I’ve seen it time and again, at companies large and small, business professionals frantically racing to finesse and finish their presentation as the clock counts down to showtime. And the success of the meeting or event often typically falls on the creative department or PowerPoint designer to magically transform chaos into art…rapidly and without error.
I’ve written about time-managing your own presentations. But managing the presentation process when there are other players involved- especially upper management- is blend of effective planning, clear communications, and level-headed patience. Here are some strategies that can help make your next presentation project more efficient and less troublesome the next time you’re called on to develop a top-quality presentation for a manager or business executive.
Developing a Positive PowerPoint Culture of People, Processes, and Technologies
“The Presentation” is often the frontline of a company’s communications, shown at conferences, meetings, and events…to internal and external audiences alike. And although most companies have their own marketing and/or creative departments dedicated to web, print, and video, very few have a department (or individuals) dedicated to creating quality presentation graphics. Organizations often downplay the relevance of the PowerPoint as a critical communications medium, with management often treating it as subordinate to larger marketing initiatives. And some creative designers don’t want to work with PowerPoint, viewing it with a superior sense of indignity, as a program for secretaries. Consequently, executives are often left to craft their own presentations, relying on a generic PowerPoint template and design standards, to produce an outcome that is often sloppy and substandard to the rest of the company’s marketing and branding.
While most creative projects have a structured approach to development with clear milestones and deliverables, ‘The Presentation’ is treated with an ad-hoc attitude and laissez faire approach. “Somehow It will get done. And if it doesn’t, it’s not my fault. It’s just a PowerPoint.”
Those tasked with creating presentations should aim to cultivate a higher level of respect and importance for “The Presentation” as a valued communications medium throughout the organization. Aim to find a project champion within upper management and schedule a short meeting or learning session with key managers to draw attention to the significance of The Presentation to the company’s goals and big picture. Highlight some trends in presentation design or technologies and showcase some best practices of other companies, while emphasizing the significance of “The Presentation” as a powerful tool in strategic communications, all with your message that “we can do better.”
This will ultimately create a positive PowerPoint culture with respect to the people, processes, and technologies involved in creating a powerful presentation.
Manage the Process and the Managers
When you’re tasked with creating a presentation for a client or busy executive, don’t make the assumption that they will also be your manager. They’re often looking to you to do their dirty-work and present them with a finished product.
That’s why it’s essential that you look to yourself as the confident project manager to establish the objectives of the presentation, key milestones and deliverables, plus a general outline. A brief 30-minute kickoff meeting with your executive can get things moving, jumpstarting the creative process and forging the foundation of the presentation. View yourself as a journalist, asking the key questions about the presentation’s content and context. Ask about its goals, key messages, sections, takeaways, and next steps. Inquire about their knowledge of the topics, where (or from whom) to get more information, what they’re looking for graphically. Try not to let them get off course and too detailed at this early stage. Start at a high-level with “just the facts”.
The faster you get started, the faster the presentation is likely to be completed. Executives don’t have time to watch you work. Aim to make your notes and speedy edits on the fly, but handle the more time time-intensive tasks offline, after your meeting. Write it all down – it’s best as a shared document or as a first draft presentation – and share it online as soon as possible after this first kickoff meeting. This first draft will undoubtedly go through multiple iterations and edits, but will serve as the foundation of the presentation, from which you or your associates can build upon.
At the end of the meeting tell them what the next steps are going to be and what their action items are. Ask straightforwardly for a ‘pledge’ of availability and accountability to ensure they will work with you to give you what you need. Verify their contact information. Ask if you can call them after-hours with questions.
Try not to sound as if you’re managing them, or talking down to them in a controlling way, but rather working to from a level of partnership and collaboration.
When working on multiple presentations, it’s vital that you balance your workload. Try to budget a fixed number hours to one project or executive. I work in stages/phases, spending several hours on one presentation before moving shifting to another. I’d rather have five presentations that show modest progress than one presentation that looks amazing and four that haven’t been touched at all.
Keeping track of multiple presentations can be confusing, especially if they’re all for the same client or event. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools are helpful (I use Prosperworks), but oftentimes a simple spreadsheet or physical whiteboard can be better to track the fluidity of a presentation engagement. I like to start my day by updating my project list and letting my clients know- by phone or email- the status of their projects. and what each of us needs to do.
Even if the meeting/event is several weeks away, it’s wise to work with a sense of urgency, recognizing that time is critical and errors can happen.
Work backward from the deadline, with a general vision of where you would like to be at various points along the way…just as you would with any traditional project. Aim to have the “final draft” completed several days ahead of the meeting and encourage the executive to practice and rehearse, ensuring your graphics and animations look good, and they’re comfortable and familiar with the content.
Rather than waiting (or expecting) for the executive to come to you whenever they have the time, schedule meeting time on their shared calendar. Meet or speak on a regular basis, at least twice a week, to share progress updates and gain feedback, input and edits.
If the presentation is showing continuous progress, management is more likely to stay ambitiously engaged in its collaborative development. And the more proactive you are in your development, the more satisfied they will will be that you’re working on their project.
Recognizing the busy schedule of many executives, it can be helpful for you connect with them after-hours. Some of my most productive times have been after 9 pm, after my clients have put the kids to sleep and they finally have time to focus and spend an hour with me by phone or webcast.
In the next post of this series, we will look at how the last-minute crunch is inevitable.
Kevin Lerner is an experienced presentation designer and PowerPoint expert, trainer/speaker, and communications strategist. Since founding The Presentation Team in the 1990’s, he has worked with clients including Motorola, Comcast, ADT, Office Depot, Oracle, Johnson & Johnson, NASA.
Kevin majored in Broadcast Journalism and minored in Political Science. A Florida native, Kevin lives with his partner Rudy in the Washington, DC region.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.