No matter how much research, planning and preparation you do prior to a presentation, you should know going into the meeting that the presentation you’ve prepared is wrong. It’s going to miss the mark. No matter what you do, it won’t be perfect. It can be good. It can be great. But it won’t be perfect.
The reason for this is that you can’t get inside of the mind of your listeners to understand the precise things you need to show and say and do to get them to fully understand and support your message. It’s just not possible. You don’t know your listener that well.
The way to deal with this challenge is simple: don’t present.
Instead of presenting, have a conversation. You can have an agenda and slides and talking points and a message you want to get across, but you have to be ready to abandon it completely as you chat with and get a reaction from your listener.
Given this, it’s important that you turn the presentation into a conversation right off the bat. The best way I know to do this is to start the conversation with something provocative. For example, “we think that the way that you run this aspect of your business is completely unacceptable”. Another way is to point out one of the features of your product that is most controversial and generates the most questions.
Whatever it is, find a way to get them interested and engaged. You have to make it into a conversation because if you’re the only one talking you’re going to be slowly become more and more off the mark. Having a dialogue ensures that you’re talking about things that matter to your prospect in a context that is relevant to your prospect.
That said, of course this is much, much easier to do when you’re doing a presentation to one or two people. It’s much harder to execute when you’re presenting to a large group — in fact, it’s impossible. You can’t possibly have a productive conversation with 10 people at the same time. No matter how well you present, some number of people are going to leave frustrated that you didn’t answer their questions or that you didn’t talk about things that were relevant to them in their context.
So try not to find yourself in a situation where you’re presenting to a large group — anything more than 2 people is generally bad. But if you can’t avoid it, I recommend starting the meeting by asking the group what they know about the topic you’re about to discuss. Then go around the room and ask people to point out hesitations or concerns they have about the topic you’re about to present. This is a great way to get some insight into what matters to people and what’s on each person’s mind.
If possible, do this again at the end of the meeting. And then ask the group who are the best one or two people to work with on next steps and setup a follow-up meeting with that person immediately. Remember, you were off the mark, you need to get that person to be your champion and get you back on track.
But again, whenever you can, try to reduce the number of people in the room when you’re making a presentation, this may require you to do multiple meetings, and may drag things on, but when you’re trying to influence people to innovate, the fewer minds you have in the room, the higher your chance of a successful presentation conversation.