Four Building Blocks for Excellent Presentations

Photo by Ashley Chastain

Photo by Ashley Chastain

Transforming an organizational culture and its processes typically includes a number of presentations, and I'm excited that I've reached a point where I'm coaching others to give presentations to internal communities rather than doing all of them myself--it's a sign that agile will be sustainable when employees want to teach one another.  Developing new content and standing in front of a group of people can be intimidating.

This summer I was in St. Louis for the Theta Tau Leadership Academy, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  Each Leadership Academy starts with introductions and icebreaker activities to form our learning community, and this year’s attendees jumped into the fun immediately.  In almost no time, it was my turn to be in the front of the room.  I was little nervous--it was the first time my friend Jeff and I presented together, and I had persuaded him to change the material and activities this year. 

Jeff and I had the 100+ attendees break into 8 groups and practice brainstorming and group decision-making activities found in our leadership toolkits; I talked about how I often use these activities in my work with teams, and I shared a few stories.  We never attempted having the entire learning community participate hands-on during this session before, and it was an experiment that went off without a hitch!  I had the courage to attempt this because of my experience encouraging large groups to self-organize during lunch and learns and user group meetings, and I was super-excited that it worked.  The positive feedback from the attendees was overwhelming, and they really appreciated the real-world examples.

For the rest of the Leadership Academy, I co-facilitated the parallel track, which focuses on presentation and facilitation skills and gives a small group of attendees the opportunity to practice these skills during the conference.  In the parallel track, we reviewed the 4 building blocks for excellent presentations, which were also the keys to why Jeff and I were so successful with our leadership toolkit presentation:

  1. Concise, clear learning purpose and plan -- What do you want your audience to take away from your presentation?  Every presentation worth doing has just one purpose.  I recommend starting with this end in mind.  At conferences, I believe in the law of two feet and will walk out of sessions that do not meet my expectations.  I walked out of a session at a conference earlier this year; I heard that towards the end of the session an audience member asked the speaker for the top 3 takeaways, and he struggled to answer the question.  Don't be that guy.  Identify the learning outcomes you want, and limit them to only a few.  People cannot learn 10 new things in an hour.
  2. Preparation for delivery, knowledge of activities, connection to purpose -- Preparation is essential.  I know I felt under-prepared for some of the materials and activities at the Leadership Academy, and I should have spent more time reviewing in advance how the sessions flowed.  It had been years since I attended the parallel track, I was co-facilitating with someone I don't work with regularly, and the physical space was unknown until we arrived that weekend--that's a lot of potential pitfalls to overcome.  I had depth of knowledge that I shared throughout the weekend, but I had moments where I had to read and learn along with the group.
  3. Compassion for your audience -- Focus on the audience understanding and being inspired--not on what you have to say.  This is one of the hardest things to do, and it is the sign of being a great presenter if you accomplish it.  Pay attention to the mood and tenor of the group, ask open-ended questions to illicit responses, allow silence for people to process, and develop an inclusive environment by being non-judgmental toward opinions. 
  4. Passion about your topic -- Whether you created the presentation or not, you must own the content.  Show excitement for it.  Tell stories about it.  Your energy helps the audience see the importance, and you want to inspire an emotion in them.  I'm an introvert, and I've found it helpful to have alone time beforehand to focus; I may also listen to some upbeat music to get pumped up and help me clear my head.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.