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3 Ways to Keep Your Presentations from Going Off-Road

chris kopp pmo professional development May 17, 2021
3 Ways to Keep Your Presentations from Going Off-Road

There’s no telling how many presentations we sit through in our careers. Some good, some not so good. What exactly is it that separates the good from the bad? Is it slick graphics, a good story, or cool transitions?

Sure, these all have their place, but what really sets a presentation apart is a high “what’s in your head vs. what’s on the screen” ratio. In other words, what’s in your head about a subject should be exponentially greater than what you present about that same subject.

Why is this important?

Because, your presentation can quickly go from an enjoyable Sunday drive to a down and dirty, off-road experience that gets stuck in the mud and stalls out. Having more information in your head will help you maintain control of your presentation vehicle.

How Presentations Go Off-Road

Simply put, most presentations are a conversation with a number of people where you just happen to be the center of attention. The good (and bad) news about conversations is that they don’t stick to a script. Questions are asked, assumptions are challenged, and input is provided. If, during your presentation you find yourself saying “I don’t know”, “I haven’t really thought about that”, or “I’m not quite sure what you are talking about” frequently, then your presentation is veering off-road. This is a sure sign you have a low “what’s in your head” ratio.

On the other hand, if you find yourself answering questions, referencing additional information, providing history and context on decisions made, and going beyond just reading your slides then you have a high “what’s in your head” ratio. You are able to gracefully navigate around the subject and keep your presentation from getting stuck and stalling out. 


How to Increase the “What’s In Your Head” Ratio

The following three suggestions will help your next presentation stay out of the mud. 


  • Become a Master of Your Subject


You need to feel 100% comfortable about what you are presenting. Be honest with yourself. If you don’t feel comfortable about a particular topic before your presentation, you definitely won’t feel comfortable about that subject during your presentation. Be sure to eliminate any grey areas or gaps in your knowledge. Ask questions until there are no more to ask, dig into the details until they make sense, and bridge the gap between what you already know and what is new to you. 


  • Do a Dry Run of Your Presentation


A dry run goes way beyond just sitting in front of your computer screen, clicking through the slides, and going over the words in your head. A dry run means setting up in the location where you will be presenting (if possible) and going over your presentation as if you were in front of a live audience. Better yet, have a few of your peers, colleagues, or your manager sit through to identify gaps, ask questions, and provide feedback before you present for real. If time allows, tweak and repeat. 


  • Bring a Subject Matter Expert


“But,” you may object, “I just found out yesterday I need to give this presentation in one week. There’s no way I can become an expert by then.” Fair enough. Then find someone who is a subject matter expert and leverage what they know. They can ride along with you in the passenger seat and help you keep your presentation on the road.

Remember, what you are presenting on the screen should be just the tip of the iceberg of how much you actually know about the subject. This will result in a successful presentation that stays out of the mud and gives you the traction you need to keep things moving forward!